Don Baum grew up in a small rural town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. When he was eighteen, he moved to Chicago, where he attended the Art Institute, the Institute of Design, and the University of Chicago. Baum began painting in an abstract expressionist manner, but he grew dissatisfied with the limitations of paint and canvas. He started building up the surface of canvases by attaching newspapers and cloth and making three-dimensional assemblages from discarded materials such as bones, crucifixes, and dolls. During the 1970s, Baum stopped showing his work and championed other local Chicago artists. He began creating new works of art in 1979 after seeing photographs of thatched structures built by boat people from Southeast Asia. Baum's small houses crafted from found objects blend his memories of Michigan's rural shacks and the energy of Chicago's busy streets.