Arts & Entertainment and Travel & Tourism

Watching your Gardens grow

Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park celebrates 20 years and worldwide attention.

January 16, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Meijer Gardens
The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden is expected to open in June as part of the 20-year celebration. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Today, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is a one-of-a-kind attraction, not just in West Michigan but the world.

This year marks the 20th anniversary since Meijer Gardens opened its doors, and its staff has planned a year of special events and exhibits.

Annually, Meijer Gardens attracts more than 600,000 visitors and is ranked in the top 100 most-visited art museums in the world by Art Newspaper.

When it opened, it is unlikely anybody foresaw the world-class venue it would become, said Andrea Wolschleger, public relations manager.

“I don’t think anyone really realized what it would turn into,” Wolschleger said. “It’s constantly growing and it’s become a huge deal, especially for West Michigan.”

One of Meijer Gardens’ largest projects yet will be revealed in June when the public gets its first up-close view of the completed Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden.

Fred Meijer’s “last gift” to his wife, Lena, is a $22 million project spanning eight acres, designed by Hoichi Kurisu, of Kurisu International in Portland, Ore.

The exhibit uses nature and space to help set the mood, which changes throughout the garden. The Japanese Garden is meant to mature for many years to come, as with all traditional Japanese gardens.

Wolschleger said the rest of the year’s events will follow a global theme — “Welcoming the World” — but a tie to the Japanese Gardens also seems strong in the planned events and exhibits.

“We’re just trying to weave everything together from the past 20 years,” she said.

On Jan. 30, a three-part exclusive exhibit, Splendors of Shiga: Treasures of Japan, will begin with a winter display.

The entire exhibit will display more than 60 artifacts dating back to the 10th century through a partnership with Shiga, Michigan’s sister state in Japan.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit,” Wolschleger said. “These artifacts have never been seen outside of Japan. It’s a pretty big deal.”

The winter display runs until March 22, when new artifacts will be put on display for an opening March 28. The switch over to a summer/fall exhibition will be June 10.

During the year, several presentations will be held in conjunction with the exhibition, including: a lecture by Hope College professor Charles Mason on what constitutes a national treasure; a lecture by Natsu Oyobe from the University of Michigan on Shigaraki ware for tea; and Western Michigan University professor Stephen Covell speaking on Japanese Buddhism.

March 1 will see butterflies return to Meijer Gardens’ five-story tropical conservatory. More than 40 types of butterflies will be showcased with a focus on species from South America. The Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition lasts until April 30.

A major sculpture will be revealed April 20, the official birthday of Meijer Gardens. The details will be announced Feb. 11. According to Chief Curator and Vice President for Collections and Exhibitions Joseph Becherer, the special acquisition has been two years in the works to mark the 20-year anniversary and, he said, “promises to be an exciting addition to our internationally acclaimed collection.”

The 12th annual Fifth Third Bank Summer Concert Series will return this year. The lineup is not yet known, but Wolschleger said when it is announced in April, it will include a special 20th anniversary concert.

Another major Japanese exhibition will take over the Gardens Nov. 24, when approximately 20 pieces of ceramics detailing the present status of the genre in Japan go on display. The exhibition was co-curated by the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park and will travel to venues in Japan following its debut in Grand Rapids.

The same day will see the launch of the annual “Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World” exhibition. This year, the Railway Garden will include landmarks from Grand Rapids’ five sister cities: Bielsko-Biala, Poland; Omihachiman, Japan; Perugia, Italy; Ga District, Ghana; and Zapopan, Mexico.

Wolschleger said the events for this year have been in the works for five years, at least since the Japanese Gardens were announced in 2011.

Meijer Gardens and its 158 acres have grown a lot in 20 years, and Wolschleger said there are no plans to slow down. With major attractions, such as one of the largest children’s gardens in the country, a 1,900-seat amphitheater, Da Vinci’s horse, sculptures by Degas and Rodin and many more, it’s an attraction that will keep people coming to West Michigan for years to come.

“It’s a great opportunity to entertain a lot of people,” Wolschleger said. “There’s something for everyone.”

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