Artist of the Month revels in rural, rustic side of Michigan

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 14, 2012

 Sheryl Burns, Sterling Heights Artist of the Month for November, stands near her display at Sterling Heights City Hall, which contains all Michigan-based photos.

Sheryl Burns, Sterling Heights Artist of the Month for November, stands near her display at Sterling Heights City Hall, which contains all Michigan-based photos.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Sheryl Burns knows exactly what her dream house looks like.

“I want one that’s peeling paint,” she said, her voice impassioned, “and has rusty nails sticking out.”

The Sterling Heights Artist of the Month for November is talking photography subjects, not future abodes of her own. And when it comes to what captures her attention, it’s the more askew, the more rundown, the more beat up, the better.

“Anything that just looks a little off, it’s not perfect — that’s what I want to capture,” she said. “Who wants to take a picture of a house that’s perfect and pristine?”

Burns said she tries to explore the otherwise unexplored, drawing inspiration from a quote by French film director Robert Bresson: “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”

For instance, she speaks fondly of a ramshackle abandoned structure she stumbled across in Kinde, Mich., depicted in an image she titled “Decrepit.”

“It’s an old, busted down house,” she said. “It’s got appliances from the ’50s in it.”

The Thumb area is somewhere the Sterling Heights resident visits frequently to “decompress,” as her family also has a home in Harbor Beach, right on Lake Huron.

“I often go there to escape on weekends, just to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city,” she said. “So I’ll spend hours and hundreds of miles just driving around the Thumb, taking pictures of farmscapes and barns — busted down barns, specifically. Those are the ones I really like. Try to get on the grounds as much as possible without trespassing. Whatever has the most character.”

Beautiful ruins aren’t Burns’ only specialty; nature, in myriad ways, always finds its way into her lens.

She’s done senior portraits, she’s done weddings, “but specifically, I focus on landscapes, and whatever Mother Nature has to offer us,” she said. “Because of my love for nature and being the tree hugger I am, that’s what really got me into photography and making that my subject.”

Her images on display at Sterling Heights City Hall include golden fields, bright purple blooms and a pier stretching out to a lighthouse with a few lazy clouds in the blue sky overhead.

An accompanying card tells each picture’s back story “so people understand where I was coming from when I took the shot,” she said. The tales include how she discovered the delicate flowers at Wolcott Mill Metropark and the rolling countryside during her Thumb adventures, and how she adores snapping photos of the Dodge Park bridge because it feels like home.

Burns said she’s dabbled in photography since childhood but has had little formal training beyond a single class in graphic design school. She progressed through film cameras before transitioning to the digital one she now favors.

Her images, which are for sale for $100-$125 apiece, have been featured in the Sterling Heights city calendar, in ARTiSTik magazine and on travel guide websites.

She chose to showcase images culled exclusively from Michigan locales for the Sterling Heights Artist of the Month exhibit — her first.

“What I love about Michigan, is you can travel all around from east to west, north to south, and find almost any landscape you can imagine,” she said. “I love traveling west, I love traveling to Colorado, but there’s something about Michigan that just has it all. I have work from California, Colorado, Oregon, but Michigan is just my all-time favorite, and it’s my home.”

The Sterling Heights Cultural Commission continues to seek applicants for the Artist of the Month program. Applicants can hail from anywhere in the state. For more information, visit or call (586) 446-2489.

Burns’ pieces will be on display throughout November in the lower level of Sterling Heights City Hall, 40555 Utica Road; and at the Used But Sterling Bookstore, inside the Sterling Heights Public Library, 40255 Dodge Park Road.

For more information on her artwork, visit or search on Facebook for “Cre8ive Roots Photography.”