From Milan to Michigan: The American Horse at the Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

by thiszine

BY URSULA K. RAPHAEL

Most people would probably think that Milan, Italy and Grand Rapids, Michigan don’t have anything in common, but they are the only two cities that have the world’s largest horse sculptures (of equal size) designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. Milan has “Il Cavallo.” Da Vinci’s “The American Horse” can be found at Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan (halfway between Chicago and Detroit).

Larry ten Harmsel, the historian for Meijer Gardens, presents us with The American Horse (August 2010, Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, $11.99), the story of how this great horse came to be. He is also a member of the Sculpture Advisory Committee and describes in vivid detail how “The American Horse” has helped Meijer Gardens become one of the world’s premier cultural institutions.

The first chapter touches on the creations of this 132 acre site, which includes boardwalks and nature trails that lead through small forests and wetlands, complete with native wildlife, as well as greenhouses, sculpture loops, and an amphitheatre. Fred and Lena Meijer donated the original 80 acres garden park and many of the permanent sculptures. In addition to the generosity of the Meijers, volunteers, members and visitors have helped Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park become a wondrous experience of art and nature blended together.

Subsequent chapters give the history of the horse going back more than 500 years. Initially planned as a life-sized equestrian statue, changes were constantly being made. While waiting for the needed bronze, Da Vinci completed “The Last Supper.” Due to complication, namely the Second Italian War, the horse was never actually made. The non-profit organization Leonardo Da Vinci’s Horse, Inc (LDVHI) resurrected the long-lost project. Eventually, Nina Akamu, a sculptor who had studied in Italy, became the creator of a model based on Da Vinci’s notes and sketches.

Included in this monumental story of art, history and determination, Larry ten Harmsel references many other beautiful pieces added to the Sculpture Park over the years, including “Mad Mom” by Tom Otterness and temporary exhibits like “The Thinker” by Rodin. It has been completely awe-inspiring to bring my five-year-old son to Meijer Gardens since he was a baby – one of his first words was “Da Vinci.” One of the most wonderful aspects of Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is that it is constantly changing from one season to the next, year after year, so no two visits are the same, as aptly proven by the breath-taking photographs included in ten Harmsel’s book.

I highly recommend adding Grand Rapids, Michigan (home of Art Prize, incidentally) to your list of must-see cities, and pick up a copy of The American Horse while you are there.

The gift shop at the Meijer Sculpture Park & Gardens accepts orders via phone and will ship the book upon request. Please visit the gift shop website for more information or call 616-975-3176 to order.

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