Laura Weiss was a retired nurse in Boulder, Colorado, but when the county department of health issued a call for help in vaccinating eligible residents against COVID-19, she signed up.
Over the past seven months, Weiss and her colleagues have inoculated hundreds of thousands of people, so she wanted to find a way to pay tribute to their collective effort.
She's done that with a 4-foot-tall chandelier made with hundreds of vaccine vials that she's called the Light of Appreciation.
"I knew I had wanted to do something with light because I felt like it's just been such a dark year and a half that I wanted to bring light to whatever it was I was doing," Weiss told NPR.
"It started just because I felt it was difficult to express my gratitude to the people I was working with, and the community effort that it took for so many people to get the vaccine," she explained.
The vials would otherwise have gone to waste
There was no clear plan, she said. Just an urge to create something meaningful, some resourcefulness and a bit of serendipity.
At work, she said, "we had hundreds and hundreds of empty Moderna vials that they were going to be wasting and I thought they were beautiful."
Weiss asked if she could take them home. That's when she landed on a Craigslist ad for a chandelier and inspiration struck.
"I just started playing with it," Weiss recalled.
"I figured out how to drill holes and clean all the vials, and then I just started stringing them together with gage and crystals."
The result is quite stunning.
"I love that from far away it just looks like a beautiful chandelier, and then you get closer and you realize it's all vaccine vials," she said about the one-of-a-kind work of art.
Nearly 300 vials make up the piece
All in all, Weiss used 271 glass vials of the Moderna vaccine and about 10 of the smaller Johnson & Johnson bottles to decorate the bottom tier of the Light of Appreciation.
It is a fraction of the vials that have been used in the county's wildly successful vaccination drive. As of September 4, 82% of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Boulder County Public Health. Meanwhile, 77% are fully inoculated.
"I think it's just awesome everyone came together like that," Weiss said.
While the chandelier is intended to represent widespread unity, Weiss said it is mostly dedicated to nurses and the support staff that made it possible.
"The nurses there had such passion and dedication and skill and care and kindness to do this for hours and hours and hours, day upon day. And not just the nurses. We had wonderful volunteers and administrators, and clerical people. Everyone really came together to vaccinate thousands of people a day."
Weiss is looking for a permanent home for the chandelier
Public reaction to the chandelier has also been thrilling, Weiss gushed.
"It's inspiring watching how people related to this and then also the community who came in and were so grateful," she said.
In some way, she and all of the nurses who brought the potentially life-saving medicine to the public are part of all of the weddings and the family reunions and the general healing that has begun after more than a year of isolation for many, she said.
"I have had people come in and just thank us because they could finally see their families again or have a wedding this summer. And it is really, really heartwarming," she said.
The Light of Appreciation is also for them: "I wanted to honor the people that actually received the vaccines, did the research and did not listen to misinformation, and have done it with intentions to help others."
"They inspire me as well," she added, which is why she wants to share the chandelier.
"Right now it's in my living room, but I'm looking for a permanent home for it," Weiss said.
"Somewhere where people can see it and take a moment" to be grateful that there is a vaccine, "because it wasn't that long ago that we didn't have one. There was nothing you could do and now there is," she said.