Leonardo da Vinci never did get to see his horse come in. Although he drew up plans for a mammoth 24-foot-high bronze steed for his hometown of Milan more than 500 years ago, his clay model was destroyed by the invading French. Leo, as he was known in the old neighbourhood, could today experience deja view, seeing his design fulfilled both in his Italian hometown and, strangely enough, also in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
U.S. grocery store magnate, Frederik Meijer, helped sponsor the creation of Leonardo da Vinci's horse through a Studio of American Sculptures lead, Nina Akamu, in a salute to da Vinci and the Italian Renaissance. However, Meijer reasoned that his own hometown might similarly use a spectacular sculpture of da Vinci's horse. Thus, Grand Rapids received an exact copy of the Milan statue. Of course, in Michigan, it's called "the American Horse."
A team of draught horses pulled the shroud off the huge sculpture in September, 1999. It remains in Frederik Meijer Gardens where Meijer and his wife deposited much of their private sculpture collection. Time magazine declared the equine sculpture one of the 10 best international designs of 1999.
The garden encompasses a 125-acre nature preserve where large sculptures by some of America's finest artists lurk amongst forest and wet lands. Visitors walk the boardwalk trails, or ride an open tram through the park. There are many more exquisite creations displayed in various indoor galleries, with copies of da Vinci's drawings for the horse. There is also a detailed description concerning how the huge horse was actually created.
As well as art work, Frederik Meijer Gardens celebrates nature. Native birds here flit about outside, while inside a three-storey-high greenhouse, colourful birds from exotic south sea islands cruise about flowers, shrubs and trees that make them feel right at home. However, take care where you walk. The greenhouse is home to kiwi, the tiny birds from New Zealand that can't fly but race through your feet.
Frederik Meijer Gardens sits on East Belt Line just off Interstate 96. It's open every day until 5 p.m. and until 9 p.m. on Thursday during the summer months. Admission is $7 U.S. adults and $1 less for seniors and $3.50 after 5 p.m. on Thursdays.
Frederik Meijer wasn't the only local to prosper. Grand Rapids is home to President Gerald Ford and wife, Betty, as well as his presidential library, built on the west bank of the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.
Everyone recognizes that Ford wasn't such a dynamic president, (except perhaps for his dangerous golf drives) so to add pizzazz, his presidential library offers a great deal more than mere Ford memorabilia. For example, the Smithsonian Museum circulates many of its valued materials and displays through Gerry's place, and the museum marks the centrepiece of a 20-acre riverside park in the heart of an attractive downtown core, where, besides the aforementioned Italian stallion, you encounter more remarkable, large outdoor sculptures.
Patrick Brennan is a veteran travel, business writer/photographer based in Guelph. His credits include writing for a chain of 60 newspapers with 1.6 million readers. He was a staff writer/photographer at the Toronto Star for 32 years.
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