Destination: Grand Rapids Michigan
Museum: Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
By Jessie Voigts
When you hear “world-class museum,” do you sigh in anticipated boredom? Does the idea of yet another walk through a sculpture park make you want to head to the nearest café, instead? When museum or art fatigue sets in, you know it’s time to find a different way to explore the culture of a place.
One such place that expands the boundaries of a world-class museum, and a sculpture park, is Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It opened in 1995 and quickly became a must-see on the lists of garden lovers, art aficionados, and people that love to see art in nature. Art Magazine ranked it in the top 100 most-visited art museums in the world. The 132 acre campus is filled with indoor and outdoor sculptures by Rodin, Moore, Oldenberg, DiSuvero, Chihuly, Lichtenstein, Butterfield, the enormous DaVinci horse, and more. There are rotating exhibits, classes, concerts in the summer, 11 different gardens, and 160+ sculptures.
Do you have museum fatigue, just reading this? Well, the Gardens are so much more, in person. Come, take a walk with me!
You’ll enter through beautiful seasonal gardens, and be greeted by friendly volunteers. Note the floor! Artist Michele Oka Doner transformed the 12,000 square foot floor in the main building into a poured terrazzo sculpture/floor – complete with bronze sculptures of fossils and plants set into the terrazzo. It’s amazing, and as more people have walked on the floor, it has become burnished and glows. Within the main building are seasonal exhibits (including the beloved holidays around the world, in December), a rotating exhibit space, a Victorian garden, an arid garden, a carnivorous plant house, and a tropical conservatory that houses the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit in late winter.
The magic, for me, comes when you head outside. All of the paths in Meijer Gardens are accessible, with flowing ramps and easy pathways. You’ll see a place for birds to feed, a water wall sculpture, and many paths to follow.
Right away, you can enter through a tiny mouse gate (if you’re a kid), or through a regular gate to the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. Explore the senses, play puppet show in the story-telling garden, enter a beaver lodge in the wooded wetlands garden, dig for fossils in the rock quarry, climb into treehouse village, take a sculpture walk, amaze yourself in the labyrinth, or do our favorite – play in the Great Lakes garden, where the Great Lakes are represented as big splashable bodies of water. It’s great on a hot summer day, but we’ve also played there in all 3 seasons!
Take the boardwalk along the perimeter, and see all kinds of animals in the wetlands. You’ll wind around and end up at the Farm Garden, replete with a 1930s farmhouse, a 100-year old barn, heirloom gardens, sugar shack – and animals! Now, the animals are all bronze statues, so cleanup is very easy.
Head back toward the main building, and take a slight detour through the Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden. Gwen Frostic was an artist from up near Frankfort, Michigan. Every time we go to our cottage up there, we make a pilgrimage to her studio and store, to stock up on her extraordinary block prints of Michigan plants and animals. This garden is a haven from heat and sun – with shading, beautiful forest flowers and plants, and bronze sculptures of forest animals.
And I’ve saved the best for last – the main sculpture walk. Winding through fields, hills, near ponds, and even a waterfall, this sculpture walk encourages you to meander, look across, and see art through the lens of nature – tall grasses, hills, sprays of water, and even cattails. Some sculptures are enormous and colorful. Some are small and tucked away. My favorite is Cabin Creek, by Deborah Butterfield. She creates horse sculptures with bronze casts of driftwood.
If you’ve still got energy, take in a concert on a warm summer’s night, or head to the café and grab a bite to eat. But if you’re like me, you’ll spend plenty of time sitting on the benches scattered throughout the park, and art- and people-watch. All of a sudden, it’s closing time – and you’ve spent a whole day with art, and beauty – and no boredom in sight.
Learn more about Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park at their website.
(All photos in this article are the property of Dr. Jessie Voigts. Please respect her copyright. Thank you.)