AS A 5-YEAR-OLD, I told my parents that I was going to be an artist,” says the architect turned artist Myra Burg. “I would flip myself upside down on a chair to view the ceiling and imagine if I could get around if the house got turned upside down.”
However, in the era of her childhood, even though her mother encouraged coloring outside the lines of convention, she knew you were supposed to be a doctor, a lawyer or an architect. In high school, Burg recalls writing, “Be an architect!”
“Architecture school was a great place for me to hone my skills and train to one day own my own business,” recalls the Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, graduate. Burg became a licensed architect and immersed herself in the world of building buildings. The downturn in the economy and architecture in the late 1980s created a memorable moment for the artist. “I remember sitting at my desk pursuing other architecture jobs,” she says. “I picked up the phone to call about a job, hung it up and instead contacted a photographer to schedule a photoshoot for three months in the future, even though I had no idea what I was going to do.”
Burg used her energy in a myriad of creative ways, including wrapping jute and making rugs for Apple’s Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. “I just started making stuff,” she says. Projects included a big hotel piece in Santa Monica. “I loved large-scale projects—the bigger the better. The one huge challenge I faced was how to hang them. Then one day I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I am an architect; I can integrate the hanging system with the art. The hanging system needs to be part of the art.’”
Burg recalls telling a friend how she was searching for a creative but smaller installation idea, as all the wrapped installations at the time were huge. He challenged her to express herself on a single cylinder. The answer appeared in her peripheral vision, a didgeridoo, a gift given to her in 1968, more than 50 years ago. For those who have no idea what a didgeridoo is, it is a wind instrument originally crafted from natural wood hollowed by termites and played by aboriginal peoples in northern Australia an estimated 40,000 years ago. “I looked at the didgeridoo and a light bulb went off,” says Burg.
She wrapped a cylinder with fiber mirroring the didgeridoo. One afternoon she was giving a group of women a tour of her space and one of the ladies saw the wrapped cylinder and proclaimed, “I want that!”
“I quickly made up a price and thought, ‘We got something here,’” recalls Burg. She named the collection The Quiet Oboes and has since created more than 12,000 pieces.
“No one wants just one,” she says of the gorgeously wrapped cylinders, which begin at $200 each and can sell for close to $2,000; installations start at $2,000. Burg works with an international roster of residential and commercial clients and has done installations in Israel, Australia, Canada, Hawaii and Africa. She smiles remembering a project she installed by candlelight and cellphone light in Palm Springs, California.
One of her true loves is the craft of collaboration, particularly with Liz Cummings, a fellow architect/artist hybrid, who is fluent in both realism and abstract painting. “Liz walked into my booth 20 years ago—that was the day we started collaborating. Our work has evolved through the years to incorporate the metallic, iridescent, soft, sumptuous, modern and even the rough and tumble. We have also solved all the world’s problems!” says Burg and laughs boldly, noting that the pair work on projects collaboratively as well as individually, regardless of whose work will grace the wall. “The project scope is flexible, ranging from a few inches wide to hundreds of feet in any direction. Our hours are also limber—we are willing to meet at just about any hour, day or night.”
Her favorite project? “People always ask if I have a favorite piece, and I say it’s the one I am working on now or, even more, the ones that inspire me to call Liz and announce that we have a new client!” says Burg.
Her process? “I put the client’s colors in my head—the mental hopper—and then go to the beach and come back and see what happens.”
It’s amazing what can be created when you pair a didgeridoo with a dream.
Stacey Marcus is a Boston-based freelance lifestyle, luxury and travel writer. Her works have appeared in Art New England, Boston magazine, Boston Common Magazine, Coastal Design Magazine, Modern Luxury Chicago, Playboy.com, RD.com, Charleston Style & Design and many others. A lover of big words and little white dogs, Stacey’s biggest joys are found in life’s simple moments.