Stephen Burks at High Museum of Art: ‘Design has the opportunity to represent everyone’s culture’

‘Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place’ is on view at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (until 5 March 2023), celebrating the American designer's practice

Stephen Burks beside sculpture
Stephen Burks with The Ancestors, 2022, from the series and exhibition ‘Shelter in Place’.
(Image credit: Caroline Tompkins)

For almost 20 years, the American designer Stephen Burks has been fascinated with combining aspects of handcraft with industrial design. His pioneering point of view is now being celebrated with his first major institutional show in over a decade, on view at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta until 5 March 2023. Titled ‘Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place’, the exhibition takes a look back at the last decade of Burks’ practice and brings together over 50 objects drawn from his key projects, as well as from a new commission, also named ‘Shelter in Place’. Viewed through a refreshed lens, Burks’ work demonstrates how his approach has consistently united art, architecture, design, craft, industry and community in one graceful swoop. 

People looking at Stephen Burks sculptures in gallery

‘Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place’, exhibition view, at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

(Image credit: CatMax)

By honing in on and incorporating the handmade into industrial work, Burks has not only forged a path for other American designers to follow, but created a memorable creative signature for himself. No stranger to working with global manufacturers like Cappellini, Dedon, Missoni and Roche Bobois, Burks’ success recurrently comes back to his embrace of cultural diversity, be it in the form of supporting craftspeople from around the globe or drawing from his own experience as a Black American designer.

‘Stephen Burks Man Made was founded on the notion that everyone is capable of design,’ Burks recounts in an essay titled ‘Prototyping in Place’ that appears in the exhibition’s companion catalogue. ‘We believe that design is cultural production, and like art, literature, and music, it has the opportunity to represent everyone’s culture. With this in mind, we try to use design as a language capable of speaking about more than color, form, materiality, and process.’

Armchair by Stephen Burks

Traveler  Indoor Armchair with Hood, 2015, for Roche Bobois.

(Image credit: Philadelphia Museum of Art)

He continues, ‘As Americans, we cannot afford to leave our history behind, but we can be in control of how we carry it forward with us. As African Americans, we must continue to rely on our collective imagination to design new ways of being in community and society with each other as well as our past, present, and future.’

‘Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place’

Stephen Burks with Woven TV , 2022

Stephen Burks with Woven TV , 2022

(Image credit: Caroline Tompkins)

Put together on the back of the global upheaval we all experienced in 2020, ‘Shelter in Place’ confronts many of the disparities in society, industry, creative work and beyond. By grouping objects in themes such as ‘craft as collaboration’, ‘modernist orthodoxies’, ‘weaving as metaphor’ and ‘environmental inclusion’, Burks’ industrial design practice is framed in a larger cultural context for the first time. It was during the early phase of the global pandemic that the High Museum’s curator of decorative art and design, Monica Obniski began conversations with Burks and his team to explore bringing an exhibition to life.
‘Through this exhibition, and its related publication, I’m thrilled to shed light on an American designer who has developed a unique point of view during nearly 20 years in the field,’ she says. ‘It is really important for our audiences to understand that architecture and design cross cultural and national boundaries. This is especially true for Burks’ practice that examines how objects are made by bringing together diverse perspectives and talents.’

Woven lanterns by Stephen Burks

The Others lanterns, 2017, manufactured by Dedon. 

(Image credit: Joe Coscia)

In addition to debuting a collaboration with students at Berea College in Kentucky, ‘Crafting Diversity’, that highlights the inclusive and innovative nature of Burks’ design process alongside the achievements of an institution that has fostered a utopian, anti-racist culture, a highlight of the exhibition is the ‘Shelter in Place’ body of work - a series of speculative concepts that imagine new products for the home. Through proposals like ‘Woven TV’, which Burks designed as a lattice shell enveloping a TV, that also invites the user to add and weave mementos, decorative trimmings or even recycling to enliven the structure and add their mark, the series prompts a reconsideration of how design in the domestic setting should ignite joy and improve the future of living. 

Mirrors with marble frames by Stephen Burks

Friends and Neighbors mirrors, 2021, manufactured by Salvatori.

(Image credit: Joe Coscia)

Three baskets

Community Baskets, 2020, made by Berea College Student Craft, Berea College, Kentucky.

(Image credit: Justin Skeens /Courtesy of Berea College Student Craft)

Woven lanterns by Stephen Burks

Anwar lamps, 2015, manufactured by Parachilna.

(Image credit: Joe Coscia)


‘Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place’ is on view until 5 March 2023


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Atlanta, Georgia


Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.