Born in New York City to parents who lived through the Great Depression, Ellen Burnett learned frugality at a young age. Trips to the MoMa with her mother introduced her to the assemblage work of Joseph Cornell and Louise Nevelson. A particular favorite was The Palace at 4 a.m. by Alberto Giacometti. Decades later, a friend of Burnett’s showed up at her hundred-year-old home with a box of construction debris. Though it was intended as firewood, Burnett found herself unable to burn certain pieces. Over the week, she started pairing the wood with unique objects throughout her home, which she had been collecting throughout her lifetime, slowly embracing the medium she had loved as a child.
Burnett’s pieces, assembled with found wood and scraps of metal, become captivating displays, at once ordered and disordered, arranged in palettes of smooth gray and welcoming brown. “It is the idea of alchemy, of making something from nothing,” Burnett says, “from the detritus, the leavings of this culture, this society that discards so much.”
Burnett currently lives and works in Weehawken, New Jersey.