A Masterpiece in Process
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park Historical Timeline
The West Michigan Horticultural Society forms for the purpose of building a botanical garden in the West Michigan Area. In March, the West Michigan Horticultural Society is incorporated as a non-profit educational institution.
Frederik Meijer becomes interested in the work of Marshall Fredericks. In Greenville, Michigan, his birthplace, Meijer selects Fredericks’ sculpture, The Ugly Duckling as a permanent sculpture to commemorate the Danish Festival. Fred Meijer is asked to fund the project due to his strong ties to the community. This introduction to sculpture excites Meijer and begins his passion for collecting.
Frederik Meijer secures his first series of sculpture from Marshall Fredericks for his personal use. He approaches Fredericks to buy more pieces with the interest of having the largest private collection of his work.
Frederik Meijer collects numerous sculptures by Marshall Fredericks and stores these in a temporary building located next to the Meijer Inc. corporate office located in Grand Rapids. Between 25 and 30 pieces are acquired, with the intention to eventually relocate the sculpture to a more public setting.
The West Michigan Horticultural Society undertakes preliminary steps to build a botanic garden for the West Michigan area. In 1987, the West Michigan Horticultural Society commissions architects’ renderings of a new conservatory. A site committee establishes a list of criteria to determine appropriateness of proposed sites for the gardens.
The site committee considers 14 sites for the gardens. The West Michigan Horticultural Society membership grows to 122 people.
The West Michigan Horticultural Society approaches Frederik Meijer to ask for a donation of land that Meijer Inc. owns, as a potential home for the project.
Frederik Meijer donates $1 million to the project, plus another $500,000 to seed a foundation to support the project with the right to name the gardens at a later date.
In January, Meijer Inc. offers 70.7 acres of land in Grand Rapids Township for the botanic garden site. The site and fund development committees support the location. Frederik Meijer offers to donate his entire Marshall Fredericks sculpture collection valued at $2,000,000 to the botanic garden project.
A community campaign to raise $13.1 million launches in June 1992 to fund the building of the new botanic garden. Earl Holton, President of Meijer Inc. and Tom Gleason, CEO of Wolverine World Wide co-chair the campaign. Frederik Meijer is named the honorary chairperson for the campaign.
In August, a groundbreaking ceremony is held and construction begins.
In September, Mark Jeter, the Gardens’ first Executive Director is hired.
In March, the Michigan Botanical Gardens is renamed Frederik Meijer Gardens, based upon a recommendation from internationally known landscape architect, James van Sweden, who is hired in the summer of 1994 as the landscape architect for the project.
By April, the campaign has raised $15.4 million through individual gifts and grants from numerous individuals and organizations and more than 40 foundations.
In the summer of 1994, a community-wide membership drive begins to build the membership base for Meijer Gardens.
In January, the first truck load of exotic tropical plants arrives at the Gardens.
By February and March, 2000 plants are installed in the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory.
April 20, Frederik Meijer Gardens opens to the public. The Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory and the 40 piece sculpture collection debut. Other areas open to the public include:
- The Lobby and Gallery
The Lobby and Gallery feature two prime architectural elements; twenty foot-high “tree sculptures” are a main support for the building; the Solstice Walls, made of Wisconsin quarry sandstone align with the sun during the summer and winter solstices.
- The Garden View Cafe
The Garden View Cafe is a dining establishment featuring homemade soups, deli sandwiches, fresh salads, and fresh baked pastries. In the evening, the Garden View is transformed into a private rental space for events and receptions.
- The DeVos Family Gift Shop
The gift shop features music, glass, home decor items, and jewelry.
- The Peter M. Wege Library
Open to the public for study and reference, the library has an extensive collection of books and periodicals on horticulture, botany, and sculpture.
- The Hauenstein and Pfeiffer Meeting Rooms
These rooms have seating for up to eighty people each. They can be used separately or together for educational classes, business meetings, receptions, and lectures.
- The Hoffman Family Auditorium
The Hoffman Family Auditorium offers a beautiful multi-image presentation entitled “Natural Affections,” a quality piece describing the special relationship that exists between people and plants.
In April, Mark Jeter leaves Meijer Gardens for a new position in Florida, and the Gardens second Executive Director, Patricia Hopkinson is hired.
On September 22, the Victorian Garden opens. The Victorian Garden is a lovely recreation of a Victorian conservatory commonly built within private homes during the late 1800s. These “garden” rooms were a mainstay for entertaining in the home. Frederik Meijer Gardens’ Victorian Garden features period furniture and accessories amidst a living collection of plants. Afternoon teas and evening private parties for small groups are possible.
On October 15, the outdoor Wege Nature Trail and Frey Boardwalk open. The Nature Trail on more than 30 acres of woodlands, wetlands and meadows includes a 2-mile nature trail within a natural setting. Many sculptures are located along the trail.
On November 17, the Gardener’s Corner Gift Shop opens. The Gardener’s Corner features plants for sale, including unusual and exotic varieties. Gardening tools, horticultural supplies and literature are available.
On November 23—December 31, the Gardens debuts its first annual exhibition “Christmas Around the World” which features decorative holiday trees and traditions from countries around the world.
On January 20, the Arid Garden opens. The Arid Garden features plants from arid areas around the world, including Africa, Madagascar and the Americas.
On February 14 - March 15, the Gardens debuts its second annual exhibition, “Butterflies Are Blooming.” More than 50,000 people visit the butterfly exhibit during the month long event. Hundreds of tropical butterflies arrive in chrysalis stage and emerge within the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory to the delight of visitors and members.
In September, the New American Garden by landscape designer James van Sweden opens at the Gardens. This garden, the first outdoor garden created, features mass plantings of grasses and perennials that define the style of the New American Garden.
In December, the Grace Jarecki Seasonal Display Greenhouse opens to the public. This colorful room features a changing display of flowers according to the season.
In January, Patricia Hopkinson, executive director departs for a new director position in Toledo, Ohio. Search begins for a new executive director. On April 14, R. Brent Dennis is hired. Dennis served as the executive director of Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio prior to taking the position at Meijer Gardens.
September, the Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial and Bulb Garden opens to the public. Created by Penelope Hobhouse, famous English garden designer, and James van Sweden, internationally known landscape designer, the English Perennial and Bulb Garden is the second major outdoor garden created at the Meijer Gardens.
The Sculpture Collection expands to more than 60 bronze works by international artists.
In April, the Gardens announce plans for a $12.8 million campaign for a new expansion. The development includes the addition of a new entrance off East Beltline Avenue, additional parking, educational classrooms, a new 800 seat multipurpose auditorium, sculpture gallery, and exhibit space dedicated to the creative process in creating sculpture.
In June, the Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden opens to the public. This natural setting with rhododendrons and other shade tolerant perennials along the Wege Nature Trail is dedicated to the Michigan artist, Gwen Frostic, from Benzonia Michigan.
Late Summer, Meijer Inc. donates an additional 48 acres of land allowing the Gardens to build a new entrance off of East Beltline Avenue.
In November, Meijer Gardens announces the decision to acquire The American Horse, one of only two castings of a 24-foot bronze sculpture created by Nina Akamu and inspired by the drawings and designs of Leonardo da Vinci.
On March 3, the Gardens realize the $12.8 million goal for new building expansion. The new expansion is expected to officially open to the public by September 2000.
On April 19, the Gardens welcomes its one-millionth visitor, Adam Abbott, age 8 from Wayland, Michigan.
On July 14, the sculpture Aria is dedicated at its new location along a newly built 1-mile long sculpture trail.
On August 4, the innovative sculpture, Full Circle, created by Carolyn Ottmers, first winner of the Meijer Sculpture Competition, debuts.
On August 19, Deborah Butterfield’s sculpture, Cabin Creek, is dedicated and placed on the sculpture trail.
On October 1, the new East Beltline Avenue entrance opens to the public.
October 7 marks the spectacular unveiling of The American Horse in front of 4,800 guests, with the help of the U.S. Marine Corp Band assisted by two Friesian horses. The introduction of The American Horse increases visitation five fold in October and four fold in November.
The sculpture collection grows to more than 100 sculptures.
In September, Meijer Gardens opens the $12.8 million expansion which more than doubles indoor space, increases facility rental potential, provides new space for sculpture exhibitions, gift shopping, guest dining, educational classes, and improves visitor services.
In October, the Gardens debuts the permanent commission installation, Column of the Free Spirit by Richard Hunt.
The Gardens’ permanent sculpture collections grows significantly with 10 new sculpture additions; most are planned for the future Sculpture Park. The new Snell Sculpture Center opens giving visitors the opportunity to view sculpture from different perspectives including style, creative decision-making, inspiration, and processes.
Membership exceeds 10,000 households.
Meijer Gardens gains significant recognition by earning a GEMmy award given by the Midwest Travel Writers Association as one of five sites for “best travel experience in North America.” Other honors include a gold medal award in the International Pavilion Competition at the Cincinnati Flower Show, a shared award with Missouri Botanic Garden as “the best public garden” by readers of Midwest Magazine, and an award as one of six Michigan sites for “best summer vacation experience” also named by Midwest Magazine readers.
During March and April, “Foremost’s Butterflies Are Blooming,” the blockbuster tropical butterfly exhibition exceeds 150,000 visitors.
The Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House opens, becoming one of the largest carnivorous collections in the nation.
The exhibition Rodin’s Obsession: The Gates of Hell, selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collection, draws record attendance. Visitation in January and February are twice the visitation ever in these same months.
On May 16, the new Sculpture Park at Meijer Gardens opens to the public, with six of the international artists present for the dedication. This 30-acre space includes 24 works by Rodin, Maillol, Pomodoro, Abakanowicz, Oldenburg & van Bruggen, and di Suvero among many others within an outdoor setting among waterfalls, woodlands, wildflower meadows, streams and beautiful landscape settings.
On August 14, the Meijer Gardens welcomes its 2 millionth visitor, four-year-old Jamie Lynn Urban, of Ada, Michigan.
Chihuly at the Gardens, presented by The Keeler Foundation, features glass works by Dale Chihuly, the most popular temporary exhibition to date.
On May 17, Michigan’s Farm Garden opens as a place where families can experience heirloom vegetable gardens, orchards, and farm animal sculptures within a 1930s era farm setting. It includes a three-quarter-scale replica of Lena Rader Meijer’s childhood home and an authentic 100-year-old barn and windmill.
On June 15, the Gardens launches a summer music series at the brand new 1750-seat outdoor amphitheater. Art Garfunkel kicks off the series, which lasts through September. The series features performances by other artists including Michael McDonald, Buddy Guy, Branford Marsalis, and Charlie Daniels Band. The amphitheater becomes host to various musical events, including performances by local West Michigan musicians in the Keller Cooler Music Series and Tuesday Evening Music Club.
The Gardens kicks off the year with an exclusive exhibition of the work of American sculptor George Segal. One of the first exhibitions of this artist’s work since his death in 2000, this exhibition is the only one to appear in the United States – a retrospective of Segal’s remarkable career which spanned over forty years.
On June 9, the amphitheater opens for the second outdoor summer concert series with headliner B.B. King. Five of the twelve concerts sold out.
On June 20, Meijer Gardens opens the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden on five acres and becomes one of the most developed and interactive children’s gardens in the nation. Ten theme areas are incorporated throughout, including a Kid Sense Garden, Great Lakes Garden, Quarry, Log Cabin, Tree House Village, Butterfly Maze, a Woodland Wetland, Labyrinth, and Sculpture Walk. Attendance increased more than 65 percent, June through September, compared to 2003.
On September 24, an important exhibition opens by internationally acclaimed sculptor Mark di Suvero. A pioneer in the idiom of construction steel, his work serves as a crossroad for many of the most influential movements in twentieth century art. The large-scale sculptures are on loan through Autumn 2006 due to the generosity of the artist and donors.
The introduction of a new logo symbolizes the spirit of the organization—a fusion of horticulture, sculpture and human celebration in one abstract image. It was designed by Gregg Palazzolo of Palazzolo Design in Ada, Michigan.
Memberships reach a record high of 15,000 member households.
On January 21, Meijer Gardens opens its tenth anniversary year with the opening of Henry Moore: Imaginary Landscapes, an exclusive exhibition, six years in the making. The exhibition features 85 works including monumental bronzes, pedestal sculptures, models, maquettes, drawings and related prints, some of which have never been shown in the United States.
On February 9, three new sculptures are added to the permanent collection. Albert Carrier-Belleuse’s Autumn Lovers, Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss and Edgar Degas’ Dancer Looking at the Sole of Her Right Foot are formally unveiled in the Victorian Garden, the sculptures’ new home.
On April 20, Meijer Gardens celebrates its tenth anniversary with a gala of monumental proportions. More than 585 guests attend the evening that honored Fred and Lena Meijer, Earl and Donnalee Holton, Ray Loeschner, Dick Morton, Mary Ann and Miner S. Keeler, Glenn and Betsy Borre, Rebecca Finneran, Starr Meijer and Meg Miller Willit, Peter Wege and Connie Snell for their commitment and dedication to developing Meijer Gardens during its first ten years. An anniversary film, The Eye Needs Something Too and anniversary book Growing a Masterpiece both debut at the gala.
In June, the work of young artist Dietrich Klinge is introduced at Meijer Gardens, the first exhibition of his work outside of his native country of Germany. Klinge’s bronzes, drawings and prints originating from carved wooden figures appear to spring to life in our enchanted setting.
During the annual exhibition Christmas Around the World and Holiday Traditions, the new G-scale Polar Express Train Garden debuts, bringing a record number of visitors to the exhibition. While the movie The Polar Express begins its successful run in Grand Rapids, Chris Van Allsburg, the originator of the story visits Meijer Gardens and is delighted by the display.
Meijer Gardens welcomes its three-millionth visitor, Judy Dodd of Clairmont, California.
Volunteers contributed 541,934 hours of service to Meijer Gardens in its first decade.
Meijer Gardens begins construction on The Groves, a five-acre expansion of the Sculpture Park.
On January 27, Meijer Gardens reestablishes it’s commitment to exploring the duality between art and the natural world with the exclusive sculpture exhibition, Andy Goldsworthy Arches, the artist’s largest exhibition in the United States to date. In addition to ephemeral works, reliefs and photography, the presentation includes two major sculptures, the colossal Grand Rapids Arch and the related Herd of Arches.
David S. Hooker is named the new President and Chief Executive Officer.
During summer, Meijer Gardens presents one of the largest public art exhibitions in the history of Grand Rapids. Tom Otterness in Grand Rapids: The Gardens to the Grand literally brings off-the-pedestal sculpture to the entire city.
In mid-year, Meijer Gardens welcomes its four-millionth visitor from England.
The Stream, a beautiful new garden, is added along the waterway that flows between The American Horse and the Children’s Garden. The Volunteer Tribute Garden is also added to express gratitude to all the volunteers who have given their precious time and talents so generously.
Meijer Gardens creates an additional seasonal exhibition, ColorFall. The exhibition includes events and activities at Michigan’s Farm Garden, a profusion of chrysanthemums, guided color tours and the Prodigious Pumpkins display.
Membership reaches 17,300 member households, becoming the largest membership base of any attraction in West Michigan.
On September 29, the first museum presentation of two-dimensional works by internationally acclaimed sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz opens to the public. Organized by Meijer Gardens, it showcases 50 works, many of them made public for the first time.
Meijer Gardens celebrates the fifth anniversary of the Sculpture Park, which has grown to more than 30 acres. 16 additional works have been installed since the opening.
On May 25, “The Amazing Chocolate Tree” exhibition opens and becomes one of the largest horticulture exhibitions in Meijer Gardens’ history. Guests are lead through a 20-foot flower dome experiencing the sights and sounds of a tropical rainforest environment. A life-size chocolate factory is on display in the Children’s Garden.
In June, the Detroit Institute of Arts makes a rare and exclusive loan of Rodin’s The Thinker. On loan until October, The Thinker needs to be moved to accommodate construction at the DIA.
Nearly 14,000 music lovers attending Meijer Gardens’ fifth annual outdoor summer concert series. Sell-out performances included Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, Chick Corea and Bela Fleck, Robert Cray and Nickel Creek.
On October 19, Meijer Gardens receives Alexander Calder’s Two Discs on rare long-term loan from the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Two Discs, which stands over 25 feet tall, is placed in the Cultural Commons.
Meijer Gardens membership is over 17,000 households, despite challenging economic times.
On March 18, Meijer Gardens breaks ground for the Maintaining the Masterpiece Campaign. In attendance are: Fred and Lena Meijer, lead donors; Hildegard Adkins, Volunteer of the Year; and Mary Ellen Rodgers, Board of Directors Chairperson.
On June 5, Meijer Gardens welcomes its five-millionth visitor: Carol Hayes of Lansing and her granddaughters Lynn, 7, and Lani, 4, of Atlanta, GA.
Meijer Gardens’ sixth annual outdoor summer concert series includes 5 sellout shows by The Doobie Brothers, Keb’ Mo and Robert Cray, CAKE, Lyle Lovett, and KT Tunstall.
On October 2-4, Meijer Gardens is the location for the 2008 International Sculpture Center’s biennial conference ”Sculpture in Public: Part 2, Public Art.” More then 500 artists, curators, patrons, educators and students attend the event. The keynote address is given by internationally acclaimed sculptor Jaume Plensa. The keynote coincides with Meijer Gardens’ Member Opening of Plensa’s largest exhibition in the United States to date.
On October 3, Meijer Gardens hosts “The Connection: A Night at the Gardens,” a kickoff event for the organization’s newest membership level. The Connection is a vibrant group of young professionals who wish to help "promote the enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of gardens, sculpture, the natural environments and the arts" in an innovative and fun way.