Jeffrey Bussell’s sculpture Babi Yar — his entry in this year’s ArtPrize — commemorates the nearly 34,000 Jews murdered during two days in 1941 near Kiev.

Jeffrey Bussell learned home repairs from his dad, an engineer, while growing up in Southfield. Although moving away from engineering and into law, Bussell maintained a set of tools to fix household problems at his own home in Farmington Hills.

With an appreciation for artistic structures as well as the functional ones, Bussell went to exhibitions and took pride in projects completed at art camp by his daughter Lauren. It wasn’t necessarily beauty that attracted him — artistically expressed ideas also caught his eye.

Those viewing experiences inspired Bussell to think about ways to express his own ideas and skills artistically, and he experimented with sculpture. Ever mindful of ancestors surrounded by changing Russian borders and lost in the Holocaust, he decided to sculpt in ways that would prompt the public to reflect on the horrific impact of the Nazis.

His kitchen table became a work station for mapping out projects.

Janet Kelman’s Oracle

Babi Yar has been accepted by this year’s ArtPrize, the artistic display and competition held through Oct. 9 in Grand Rapids. Bussell’s three-dimensional work, a large disintegrating Star of David made of people-shaped wooden pegs, memorializes the 1941 massacre of nearly 34,000 Jews in the Ukraine ravine known as Babi Yar.

“I remembered a piece shown years ago at the Janice Charach Gallery at the Jewish Community Center,” Bussell explains. “It had a smoke stack with skeletal remains, and I thought about how pieces like this help educate non-Jews about the Holocaust. I’m sure non-Jews don’t think about that time in the way that Jews do, and art can serve to remind them.”

Bussell found wooden pegs shaped as people through a website and worked with a ruler and glue to put them together. The Babi Yar project came after two other works of similar construction, both showing models of boxcars that carried Jews to concentration camps.

Boxcar II was accepted into the 2015 ArtPrize. In that sculpture, people-shaped wooden pegs made up a boxcar, tracks and other elements of the piece communicating the way Holocaust victims were transported to their deaths.

“I took some art classes while attending Southfield schools, but I hadn’t thought about doing serious work until the last several years,” Bussell says. “I visited ArtPrize for my 50th birthday in 2013 and got the idea to build a piece for consideration.

“I wanted to make something different than anything I’d ever seen. Babi Yar is big, 2 feet by 3½ feet, and it will be on display at Fifth Third Bank/Warner Norcross & Judd.”

ArtPrize hosts some 400,000 visitors every fall, this year in 170 venues, from restaurants to community centers, with projects by some 1,500 artists. More than $500,000 is awarded; half decided by public vote of visitors and half decided by a jury of experts.

Love Letter No. 1 and 2, by Marsha Plafkin, “are actual letters sent to the man I love,” she says.

Marsha Plafkin, who grew up outside Grand Rapids, has been selected to show paintings at ArtPrize. Trained in both art and Jewish studies with time spent in Israel, she will be showing Art Letter 1 & 2 at the West Grand Neighborhood Organization.

The organization has allowed her additional space to showcase other works — eight paintings and eight ceramic pieces.

“I painted Love Letter No. 1 in 2014 and Love Letter No. 2 in 2015,” says Plafkin, who used happy colors to communicate visually.

“These are actual letters sent to the man I love. The language that fits my experience of our relationship is in the Song of Songs and also in interpretations of this Song offered by the Zohar.

“Some could almost say a love like this is purely imagined. I would say that true love begins with imagination and inspires this in us and others as well.”

Plafkin is founder and president of Art as Responsa. Traditionally, “responsa” are written rabbinic answers to religious questions, and Plafkin’s company uses that word to embody her lifelong passion for art and religious culture.

She designed The Braille Dreidel, which was later nicknamed The Braidel. This design was accessioned to the permanent collection of the National Museum of American Jewish History and featured for ArtPrize 2014.

The Braille Dreidel, or Braidel — Plafkin’s 2014 ArtPrize entry — embodies “life lived with eyes wide shut,” says the artist. “Related to difficulties we experienced as a Jewish family in Grand Rapids … I came to see it as a self-portrait, family portrait and community portrait.”

Janet Kelman, an Ann Arbor glass artist whose colorful windows appear in the Oak Park buildings of Young Israel and Temple Emanu-El, has a large piece, Oracle, accepted into this year’s ArtPrize. It can be seen at the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

Oracle is a large, layered piece composed of 16 glass panels mounted together into one vision of clear flowing water, with plants and creatures emerging then disappearing in the rushing stream. The work is dominated by blues and greens and splashes of red.

“I have always had a fascination with water,” Kelman says. “My work has been about oceans, rivers and waterfalls as metaphors for psychological perceptions, what is readily seen through the water and what becomes clear later.” *


ArtPrize runs through Oct. 9 in Grand Rapids. To view and vote on the works mentioned here, visit

By Suzanne Chessler, Contributing Writer