‘COVID purse diary’: ArtPrize entry examines baggage of pandemic


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — From toilet paper rolls to masks and bike gears to pine cones, one ArtPrize artist has found a unique way to illustrate the pandemic.

Artist Heather Boersma was working as a teacher at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and started going for more walks with her extra time.

She noticed others were, too, and she started noticing things in nature. She decided to start making purses out of the things she found.

That led to her making purses out of other objects to illustrate the pandemic experience.

“I love the symbol of a purse,” Boersma said. “It’s about things that we value and how we carry our most essential items in our purse.”

Some of them are playful, like a purse made out of toilet paper tubes.

Other are much more serious, like one made out of ammunition. She made that one to demonstrate that people started hoarding ammo, but when she showed it at a show recently, it struck a chord with one young man for a different reason.

“One of his friends had got shot and died,” she said. “There’s been a lot more violence, too, a lot more gun violence during the pandemic.”

Boersma also made a purse with the stickers she received to get into the hospital and senior living facilities when her mother contracted COVID-19.

“My mother ended up getting COVID in the middle of it all. I had to go down to Maryland to help her, get her in the hospital,” Boersma said. “It was really hard to see her. She was so isolated.”

She said she has made over 100 purses — from one made out of masks to one titled “broken supply chain” made out of a broken bike chain. She’ll rotate them in and out of display for her ArtPrize entry, “Covid Purse Diary.”

Boersma said she hopes to be present at her exhibit as much as possible to talk with people about what they’ve gone through during the pandemic.

“I hope that everybody can find something that they can relate to,” she said. “Something maybe lighthearted but also maybe something serious and that they can engage with it.”

She will also be leading workshops with the community where people can make their own pandemic purses.

Boersma, from Kalamazoo, has been and artist for over three decades. She’s a teacher but is taking the year off to take care of her mom and work on her art. This is her first ArtPrize.

Her piece can be seen during ArtPrize at Canopy by Hilton, 131 Ionia Ave. SW.

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