What prompts us to start collecting things?
For Frederik Meijer, the founder of the Meijer retail and grocery chain, and his wife, Lena, it was supporting a project to have Marshall Fredericks create a bronze sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen’s Swan and Ugly Duckling in the Meijers’ hometown of Greenville, Michigan in 1985. The project was so successful that the Meijers started collecting more of Fredericks’ work. They eventually acquired over 30 of his sculptures, including this dramatically posed portrait of Lord Byron.
The Meijers’ collection wasn’t just for their own appreciation; they wanted to share it with the public. So, when some Grand Rapids residents asked the Meijers to fund the creation of a botanic garden in 1992, Mr. Meijer recalled how inspired he was by the Kröller Müller, a museum and sculpture park in the Netherlands. He suggested integrating modern and contemporary sculptures with a horticultural display garden, creating a place where people could enjoy and appreciate art in a natural setting. In 1995, the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park was born, opening to the public in 2002. Today, it covers 132 acres of land, with three conservatories, a concert amphitheater, a children’s garden, indoor sculpture galleries, and more than 300 internationally acclaimed sculptures; new acquisitions are added every year. It is open year-round, so the changing seasons ensure that things are “always growing, always beautiful, always new.”
The sculpture park is an open-air museum for dozens of works dramatically placed among plantings of native trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. Tour it with a guide on a tram, or on foot, looking for the “welcoming stones” that lead visitors to engage with the installations. Whatever your choice, you’ll appreciate the creativity and vision behind these artistic creations. Standing 24 feet tall, The American Horse was inspired by a Leonardo da Vinci work. Cabin Creek appears to be a figure of a horse made of branches and discarded planks, but it’s actually a reassembled collection of found objects cast in bronze and welded steel.
Many of the sculptures change as visitors view and interact with them from a variety of vantage points. Male/Female, Jonathan Borofsky’s 23-feet-tall brushed aluminum sculpture, depicts a 180-degree intersection of a male and female silhouette, while Alexander Liberman’s 42-feet-tall Aria suggests musical notes and symbols.
Have you seen a living sculpture? Sabre Larch Hill is a “planting” sculpture made from living saplings that are pruned over time to create a specific composition. It’s situated next to the Japanese Garden, with water features, a teahouse built in Japan using traditional Japanese building methods, and more than 4,000 boulders.
Michigan’s Farm Garden incorporates a replica of Mrs. Meijer’s childhood home, together with a barn, windmill, sugar shack, and flower and vegetable gardens typical of a 1930s farmstead. Continue to the children’s garden, which features tree houses, a five-senses garden, a miniature version of the Great Lakes, a log cabin, a sand quarry, mazes and sculptures with special appeal for children, many of them by Marshall Fredericks.
Plant enthusiasts will appreciate that the English perennial and bulb garden was created by garden designer Penelope Hobhouse. Inside the consevatories, the Victorian garden parlor recalls the popularity of plant collecting and gardening in the Victorian era. In a setting that suggests a sunroom or small home conservatory, potted palms, ferns and orchids are displayed alongside a fountain, sculptures by popular artists of the day, and one of those fabulous Wardian cases, a Victorian terrarium for exotic plants. A five-story tropical conservatory contains over 3,000 orchid plants. There’s also a carniverous plant house and an arid garden that displays small animal sculptures surrounded by hundreds of desert cacti, succulents and living stone plants from Africa.
Book-Tower, a sculpture by Wolfgang Kubach and Anna Maria Kubach-Wilmsen, is made from 27 different types of stones selected from quarries across the world for their color and veining. Reminiscent of marbleized endpapers in books, it’s right at home in the reference library.
The main building’s limestone walls align with the winter solstice sunset and summer solstice sunrise. The corridors are supported by concrete trusses in the shape of trees. Many of the interior design elements are in the shape of a beech leaf.
Look beneath your feet for the most beautiful work of all, in my opinion. It’s the floor.
Covering more than 13,000 square feet, this deep variegated green terrazzo aggregate, mother-of-pearl and bronze floor is a work of art called Beneath the Leafy Crown. Envisioning a Michigan forest floor, artist Michelle Oka Doner created 1,650 unique cast-bronze shapes in the form of leaves, branches, flowers, twigs, bark and pollen, then installed them on site. Click here to watch her create Beneath the Leafy Crown, and see the Meijers experiencing it.
For more, read Gardens of Art: The Sculpture Park at the Frederik Meijer Gardens, edited by E. Jane Connell; America’s Garden of Art, by Joseph Antenucci Becherer, David S. Hooker and Larry Ten Harmsel; Landscapes for Art: Contemporary Sculpture Parks, edited by Glenn Harper and Twylene Moyer; A Love of the Beautiful: Discovering America’s Hidden Art Museums, by Susan Jaques; and Marshall M. Fredericks, Sculptor, edited by Suzanne P. Fredericks.