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The World's Best Kept Secret

sculpture park

Most of the sculptures are spread across 30 acres in the park.

Located on 132 acres just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan is the world's best kept secret- The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. The author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die,. Patricia Schultz, ranks Meijer Gardens thirteenth among museums including the Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, Van Gogh Museum, and the Getty Center.


"When it opened, we had no idea it would be as successful as Meijer Gardens is today," says Frederik Meijer, the Chairman and namesake of Meijer Gardens, and the the owner of the Meijer Supermarket chain.


The museum is only fourteen years old, and already it has been lauded by everyone who visits. The Wall Street Journal wrote, "...There's nothing quite like Frederik Meijer Garden & Sculpture Park this side of the Kröller-Müller Museum and Sculpture Park in The Netherlands." Yet, most people in the world do not know if its existence.


The sculpture park features more than 180 works including important examples ranging from Auguste Rodin and Edgar Degas, to Henry Moore and Alexander Calder to Mark diSuvero and Andy Goldsworthy. Sculptures are featured inn the interior buildings, the gardens and are concentrated on 30 acres outside. Three times a year exhibitions are held with temporary visits from works of art ranging from Magdalena Abakanowicz to George Segal, and Dale Chihuly to Anthony Caro.


In May of 2009, a second major sculpture by world-renowned glass artists Dale Chihuly was installed on the ceiling of the Taste of Gardens Café. The work is titled Lena's Garden (see image below) and is in homage to Lena Meijer and her love of horticulture. Chihuly first met the Meijers in 1999 during a visit to Grand Rapids.


chihuly sculpture


Lena's Garden is comprised of nine individual compositions ranging from five to seven feet in diameter. The sculpture contains multiple glass elements that present a vibrant spectrum of colors. The sculpture arrived in 132 boxes containing hundreds of glass elements. The steel armature came in 14 pieces and will be an estimated 60 feet in length when complete.


Dale Chihuly (b. 1941) was first introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. He continued his studies at Rhode Island School of Design, where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade. Through the Fulbright Fellowship, Chihuly studied in Venice, Italy, which exposed him to the team approach to glass blowing. Later he returned to Washington State and founded the Pilchuck Glass School, where he continues to lead the way in fine art glass blowing. Chihuly's work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide, two of which have been commissioned specifically for Meijer Gardens. He has been awarded eight honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.


chihuly sculpture chihuly sculpture

The Chihuly sculpture adorns the ceiling of the Taste of Gardens Café. At the time of these photographs, the sculpture wasn't quite finished. Click on all the images for full size.


In 1996, Fred Meijer learned of a colossal equine sculpture that was created from Leonardo Da Vinci's sketches of his famed horse sculpture. Leonardo's unfinished horse sculpture was destroyed in 1499 by invading French forces and all we have are the sketches and measurements. Artist Nina Kamu created the sculpture to his grand proportions and named it The American Horse (below). Meijer purchased the sculpture and hoped that the work would inspire the imagination of visitors and celebrate centuries of creativity dating from Leonardo's unfinished sculpture.


nina akamu's sculpture


The American Horse, Nina Akamu, dedicated 1999. Nina is recognized as one of the most talented animal sculptures of her generation. The sculpture sits at the DeVos Van Andel Piazza (named after Steve Van Andel and Doug DeVos) at the Meijer Gardens Click on all the images for the full size view.


akamu's horse sculpture another view of her sculpture

Nina Akamu got her inspiration for this horse from her studies of the history of equine sculpture and Leonardo's sketches and drawings. Her sculpture is 24 feet tall and made of bronze. An identical casting of this horse was installed in Milan, Italy in 1999. Click on the images for full size.


If you want to experience the gardens and sculpture park go to 1000 East Beltline Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan from Monday through Saturday from 9 am - 5 pm, Tuesday until 9 pm, and Sunday 12 - 5 pm. Parking is free on-site. Guided tram tours run from May 1st until September 30th each year with departures starting at 10:30 am and running every half hour until 4:00 pm from Monday through Saturday and between 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm on Sundays. They offer evening trips on Tuesday nights at 5, 6, and 7 pm from June until the end of August. Tram rates are $3 per adult and $1 per children 12 and under.


the meijers sculpture


Fred and Lena Meijer, A. Joseph Kinkel (b. 1950), Bronze, 2004. Anonymous gift. If not for this couple, the Meijer Sculpture Gardens would never have become reality. Click on the image for full size.


Exhibitions in 2010 are as follows:


Michele Oka Doner, January 29 - May 9, 2010
Oka Doner is widely acclaimed for her sculpture, jewelry and functional objects. She draws her inspiration from nature. This exhibition will be her largest and will include recent projects in bronze and silver and 1,500 ceramic Soul Catchers that were finished during her residency at the famed Nymphenburg porcelain studios in Munich, Germany.


Celebration of the legacy of Fred and Lena Meijer, June 4, 2010- January 2, 2011
In celebration of the namesake institution’s 15th anniversary, contemporary sculptors represented in the permanent collection will be displaying new work in this unique gallery exhibition. From Louise Bourgeois and Deborah Butterfield, to Mark di Suvero and Antony Gormley, to Claes Oldenburg and Tom Otterness.


The Incredible Art Department was able to tour the gardens during Art Prize and take numerous pictures. Throughout the year, we will feature various works from the gardens here. Stay tuned for more pictures of this wonderful sculpture garden.