WATCH NOW: Big Stories, Small Boxes: Artist Opens ‘Pandema’s Box’ to Recount COVID Experiences | Local News


WATERLOO — For years, artist Molly D. Wallace collected vintage jewelry boxes and “everything” miniatures. I’ve been obsessed with miniatures ever since I was knee high in front of a grasshopper,” the Des Moines native said with a laugh.

The exhibition “Pandema’s Box” by artist Mollie D. Wallace is presented at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

CHRIS ZOELLER Personal Mail Photographer

After years of transporting the collection from New York University to New Orleans and finally back to Iowa with her husband and son, Wallace was inspired to create her own “little worlds” at the interior of old jewelry boxes.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“I was halfway through the first box. I thought that would be a fun thing to do during the pandemic — ‘two weeks to flatten the curve,’” Wallace said. “Everything started closing – schools, museums, galleries, concerts, libraries, Broadway, restaurants – and my work took a left turn.”

Three years later, Wallace has created nearly 30 mixed-media assemblages in a collection she calls “Pandema’s Box,” on display until June 19 at the Forsberg Gallery at the Waterloo Center for the Arts. A reception is scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on May 19, sponsored by the Friends of the Art Center. It is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

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Molly Wallace 2

The exhibition “Pandema’s Box” by artist Mollie D. Wallace is presented at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

CHRIS ZOELLER Personal Mail Photographer

Each of Wallace’s creations deals with a specific story or theme related to the quarantine life pandemic, re-reading epic novels, playing board games, streaming TV shows and movies, and teaching cat riding the Roomba, hoarding toilet paper, at-home haircuts, pandemic sourdough, Zoom gear, vaccines, and the great mask debate.

Each highly detailed story is told in miniature and put in a jewel box, created in real time like the pandemic. “They became my visual diary as things happened,” she said.

“Dancing Alone” was his first small world. Inside the jewelry box, a ballerina twirls endlessly in an empty opera house. With each revolution, she can spy the Skeleton Keyhole, a reminder of what happens when an epidemic runs amok and draconian lockdowns shut down the world, leaving her wondering if it will ever end.

“All of these vignettes illustrate a bit of everyone’s experiences during COVID. Molly’s boxes connect with people and put those experiences into context. There’s humor, but also serious reflection on the lives lost and heartfelt moments that speak to the human condition,” said WCA curator Chawne Paige.

“I went with my gut with everything I was working on,” Wallace explained. “If I felt cheeky about something, that would go with it. If I felt like it was a serious topic or something I didn’t think was emotionally fun, then I treated it seriously,” like boxes on Black Lives Matter or essential workers.

“Hope” was to be his last box with the word spelled like the Hollywood sign in California, inside a clear glass jewelry box.

“I thought I quit when we got the vaccine. As long as we have hope, everything will be fine. Hope is courage and thinking that things will get better. I was super excited to have made this box and then of course the delta, omicron, warrants, boosters arrived.

And Wallace still isn’t done. “I thought it would be remiss if I didn’t address Ukraine and supply chain issues.”

Every Monday, Wallace and his mother, Diane, go “save money” at their favorite store. “On Mondays, she has discounts for seniors. And I’m not saying where we’re going because I don’t want other people getting their first. She wanders the aisles looking for things for me. She’s kind of a facilitator,” the artist said with a laugh.

Wallace credits his mother with the Herd Immunity Box – a collection of miniature animals ranging from unicorns to giraffes enclosed in a jewelry box and guarded by a cowboy on horseback wielding a lariat. “I also steal a lot of toys from my eight-year-old son. He also likes miniatures. I’m going to sneak into his room and take things he doesn’t play with anymore. I have to super glue them before he sees them and wants them back,” she said.

Molly Wallace 1

The exhibition “Pandema’s Box” by artist Mollie D. Wallace is presented at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

CHRIS ZOELLER, Courier Staff Photographer

The artist graduated in design and illustration from Pratt Institute in New York, and his work can be seen across Des Moines and New Orleans, including murals, signs and merchandise brands. She is also a portraitist and works on commission.

WCA Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.


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