8:02 PM / Saturday September 23, 2023

20 Oct 2013

Michigan, A Walk on the Art Side in Lansing and Grand Rapids

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October 20, 2013 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Grand Rapids


By Renée S. Gordon


“An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful.”   

–Francis Ford Coppola


Lansing is situated at the juncture of the Grand and Red Cedar Rivers. Only Native Americans inhabited the densely forested area until two brothers arrived in 1835 from Lansing, New York. The land was often flooded because it was in a floodplain but the brothers still returned to the East and sold parcels of land. When the new landowners arrived, despite the condition of the land, many elected to remain and they named the settlement Lansing Township. In 1847, the state capitol was relocated to Lansing because there was concern regarding Detroit’s proximity to Canada and possible British invasion.


The current Victorian Michigan State Capitol was completed in 1878 at a cost of more than  $1 million. The building, designed by Elijah Myers, is architecturally stunning with its glass-floor rotunda and massive dome. It is the only state capitol to achieve National Historic Landmark status. Tours are offered every 30 minutes on weekdays.


Zaha Hadid Architects was commissioned in 2008 to design a new art museum on the grounds of Michigan State University on a site once occupied by the Paolucci Building. The $45 million, 46,000-sq. ft., Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum was completed in 2012 and designed to visually connect the campus and the city. The museum was designed with no right angles making the gallery space as exciting as the artwork. The Broad inherited a 7,500-object collection and creatively mounts works of contemporary artists as well as exhibitions that juxtapose the original collection with pieces by visionary current artists.


For 35 years Saper Galleries has been located in East Lansing. This award-winning gallery has a 48 ft. vaulted skylight that allows visitors to view the artworks in natural light. Saper’s showcases artworks in all styles, mediums and price ranges and markets internationally to more than 100 countries via their online presence. The gallery offers free art searches and world-class service.


Grand Rapids, even prior to documented history, has been a place of spirituality and creativity. The mound building Hopewell Indians erected enormous, concentric, earthworks on the west side of the Grand River from about 400 BC to 400 AD. These mounds were used as places for funerals and ceremonies and it is estimated that of 40 mounds 15 remain. The largest one left is approximately 15-ft. high and 100-ft. across. The Norton Mound Group was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.


The People of the Three Fires, the Ottawa (Odawa), Chippewa (Ojibwa) and Potawatomi Indians moved into the area around 1700 AD with their primary village in what is now the heart of Grand Rapids and referred to themselves as the Anishinabek, “The Original People.” Their historic presence is honored by three representational mounds in Ah-Nab-Awen Park on the west bank of the “Owashtanong,” Grand River. The Elders of the Three Fires Council selected the name meaning “Place of Rest.”


In 1821, the Treaty of Chicago ceded the land to the US and Isaac McCoy and Louis Campau settled the area by 1825. Campau, a fur trader, erected a rehouse and trading post and McCoy, a Baptist missionary, set to work building a house and establishing a stable, smithy and school. In 1831 Campau paid less than $100 for 72-acres that would become the center of Grand Rapids. 


While Grand Rapids has a history of artistic accomplishment reaching back to prehistoric times it became firmly entrenched in the modern city’s consciousness in 1969 with the installation of “La Grand Vitesse” by Alexander Calder. This 42-ton red sculpture, 54-ft. long, 30-ft. wide and 43-ft. tall, was the first project of the National Endowment for the Arts public art program. The sculpture arrived in 27 pieces and took shape before the eyes of the people. Many people failed to be impressed and Grand Rapids, in an unprecedented move, initiated public discussions between its citizens and he artist. Today the sculpture is the symbol of the city and the infusion of art into daily life has become an expectation.


PHOTO: Rosa Parks Statue


The crowning event of Grand Rapid’s art scene is ArtPrize® designated by Time magazine one of the “Five Festive Events You Won’t Want to Miss in 2013.” ArtPrize is an international arts competition with works displayed throughout the city, from museums and hotel galleries to restaurants and laundromats, totaling 1,524 pieces shown in 169 venues. Prizes are awarded based on votes placed by both the public and professional jurors. The works are primarily by new and emerging artists. Prizes total $560,000 with $200,000 going to the first place winner. ArtPrize has no rival.


Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) had its origins in 1910 as the Grand Rapids Art Association. In 1924 it was renamed the GRAM and, after several moves, in 2007 the 5,000 piece collection, dating from 1850 to the present, relocated to the world’s first entirely LEED certified art museum. The 125,000-sq. ft. building was constructed at a cost of $75-million. The permanent collection is showcased in seven galleries on the third floor.


GRAM borders Ecliptic, a green park in the heart of the downtown area designed by Maya Lin in 2000. Situated on the perimeter of the park is a monument to Rosa Parks sculpted by Ed Dwight in 2010. A bronze depiction of Parks stands in front of the controversial bus seat she refused to relinquish 54 years ago.


Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is a phenomenal 132 acre combination of nature’s art and that of man in natural settings. It opened in 1995 and consists of the state’s largest tropical conservatory, outdoor gardens, three interior gardens, nature trails, waterfalls, streams, educational facilities and more than 200 internationally renowned sculptures throughout including a 30 acre sculptural park. An additional park highlight is the 3.5-acre interactive Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. 


A Japanese Garden is scheduled to open in 2015. All structures are authentically Japanese crafted using traditional techniques. The property is wheelchair accessible and tram tours are offered. 


The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) is an important stop on any Grand Rapids visit. The three floor museum interprets the city’s history through dioramas, interactive stations, a 1928 Spillman Carousel, artifacts and inventive displays. The museum was founded in 1854 and the permanent collection now exceeds 250,000 objects of which 105 are displayed. Tours should begin on the upper level with “Anishinabek: The People of This Place,” the Native American story told alongside that of the people who migrated here. 


The second floor’s highlights are “Thank God for Michigan,” about the state’s participation in the Civil War, and “The Furniture City.” At one point the vast majority of the furniture made in the US was made here and that period is recreated in a walk-thru exhibit. Until February 2, 2014 “Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon” will be showcased in a temporary exhibition.  


On the ground floor visitors can walk the ¾ scale “Streets of Old Grand Rapids.” An authentically clad docent who interacts with you and answers questions staffs each building along the streets. Also on this level is the notable 1980 Underground Railroad painting by Paul Collins. The GRPM provides a wonderful overview of the city and its place in both the state’s and the country’s history.


Grand Rapids is considered Beer City U.S.A. 2013. It received the greatest number of online votes and has more than 15 craft breweries within a 20 minute drive of each other and boasts a high level of dining and beer pairings. The city hosts an outdoor Winter Beer Fest and is one of the top 10 best vacation spots for beer lovers.


Amway Grand Army Plaza Hotel is located on the site of Louis Campau’s trading post and because traders often lodged on the grounds one could say that the area has been a form of hotel for more than 175 years. In the 1900s, it opened as Sweet’s Hotel but its real fame came when it was renovated and reopened as the Pantlind Hotel in 1916 and rapidly became “one of the finest hotels in America.” The Amway family purchased the hotel in 1981, retained many of the opulent architectural elements and added a tower and luxury amenities. It is a AAA Four Diamond luxury hotel and a member of both the Preferred Hotel Group and Historic Hotels of America.


The Pantlind lobby is a must see. The 7,000 ft.-domed ceiling is covered in gold leaf and is the largest of its type in the nation. Three Austrian Crystal Czechoslovakian chandeliers, weighing a total of 12,000-pounds, are also lobby highlights. The Amway Grand is located within walking distance of downtown attractions and it offers promotions and specials.


When planning your next vacation think Michigan. It offers singular experiences at affordable prices. You will love it. Information is available online.


I wish you smooth travels!





Sleep Therapy Pillow Speakers by Sound Oasis are a boon to travelers, and others, seeking a restful sleep personalized with their own favorite sounds. Two wafer-thin speakers plug into your sound source and slide beneath your pillow for an affordable zen-like sound experience. You have total control over volume and programming as you are lulled to sleep.       


The Benjamin Franklin Parkway has been designated a 2013 “Top 10 Great Street” by the American Planning Association. Influenced by a Parisian street plan the parkway serves as a link between Philadelphia’s historic district and its cultural institutions. It was completed in 1926 and annually welcomes more than 3-million visitors. You can make a day of visiting the museums and pocket parks and examining the outdoor art along our very own “Great Street.”


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