Yesterday we drove out to Grand Rapids to see the sculpture garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens. I was blown away by the quality of the art and the beauty of the gardens. What made the visit even more exciting was the collection of Chihuly glass sculpture installations all over the grounds.

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Beside the fantastic outdoor art and flower collection there’s an immense indoor botanical conservatory, with desert, carnivorous, tropical and Victorian garden sections. The enormous Tropical conservatory also features unusual tropical birds, along with many Chihuly pieces large and small which can be discovered among the palm leaves.


The fun started right in the parking lot with Tony Cragg’s “Bent of Mind.” Recalling the optical illusions of faces and vases, in three dimensions, faces appear and disappear as you walk around the sculpture.

Bent of Mind

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Nearly everywhere you look there is some unusual planting or beautiful touch of color in the gardens.

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The main conservatory building is really large as these things go. The stepped glass enclosure shown here is just the tropical section. The other conservatory environments are behind it.

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Probably the only thing I’ve seen that rivals the size (but not the interesting layout) is the hotel/conservatory at Opryland in Nashville, shown below:

Opryland Hotel

On the way in to the front door, you’ll see the first Chihuly, a riot of red and yellow glass tendrils, growing out of the ground.

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Right out the back door is another one: a tower of rose crystal chunks, about 20 feet high. I think Chihuly favors the towers for outdoor exhibits because they handle wind and weather better than some of the other structures he uses, such as the chandeliers.

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A detail of the Rose Crystal tower:

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I’m not sure who this piece is by, but these acrobat angels peeking over a hill attracted my lens:

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I was happy to find this sculpture in the collection – previously, I’ve only seen pictures of the work of Deborah Butterfield, who creates horse forms from driftwood pieces. This one is a bronze cast of one of her works.

Cabin Creek

Chihuly has a way of enhancing natural beauty with seemingly natural creations of his own. This pond setting incorporates three pieces, “Blue Moon, Walla Wallas (the floating “onions” scattered around the pond) and “Yellow Boat”.

Chihuly pond installation

Next up, one of my favorite artists, Kenneth Snelson’s Tensegrity structure: B-tree II. Tensegrity is like a three dimensional form of weaving where rigid struts are supported without touching each other by tension wires. (See Snelson’s site for more details)

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This monumental horse pays homage to Leonardo Da Vinci’s lost equine statue. At 24 feet hight, it completely dwarfs any humans that happen to be near it, but there are smaller versions in the plaza to view up close.

Homage to Leonardo

Apparently a team attempted to recreate the lost statue unsuccessfully, then hired Akamu, who had training in Renaissance art and sculpture techniques. See this page for more information on the making of this piece.

Another standout among the outdoor collection is this piece by Alexander Liberman, called Aria. It’s hard to get a bad picture of this one!

Detail of AriaDetail of Aria

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Inside the vast conservatory, the centerpiece is a huge cluster of Chihuly polyvitro spheres hanging amidst exotic tropical splendor.

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The polyvitro chandelier seen through the palm leaves.

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Throughout the tropical gardens, there are constant colorful surprises, both “vitro”…

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and “vivo”…

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A small room contains the impressive and rather anxiety provoking carniverous plant collection. A few of these trumpet and pitcher plants looked big enough to take on small mammals.

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The Arid conservatory is a museum of fantastic cacti and succulents, along with this cute little javalina bronze by Irvin Burkee, a Colorado artist who died a few years ago.

IMG_5043Trotting Javelina

A word of advice if you visit during the summer: bring water with you while touring the outside gardens, and wear a hat! It’s very easy to get too much sun and find yourself far from anywhere you can get a drink. I managed to completely overheat (it’s hard to leave anything unphotographed!) and was benched in the café with a cold root beer until my temperature dropped. However, this gave me a chance to shoot pictures of the incredible Chihuly ceiling in the Café!

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Café ceiling by ChihulyCafé ceiling by ChihulyCafé ceiling by Chihuly