da Vinci in America

by Jessie Voigts  Add comments
categories: usa travel
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Wandering amidst a glassy conservatory, waterfalls, small bears, driftwood horses, and occasional glass spikes, you will run across the da Vinci Horse. In fact, you can’t miss it. For those of you who have NOT scampered underneath the enormous hooves of this particular horse, let me fill you in. He’s located at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan – and he’s HUGE.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse: The American Horse, by Nina Akamum, is a huge bronze sculpture – 24 feet tall, although it seems much larger in real life. It was created by the artist in homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s original design for a horse, commissioned by the Duke of Milan. da Vinci never finished the sculpture – only completed it in clay. He had, however, completed numerous sketches for the horse (over the course of 17 years!). Akamu conducted much research, studied his notes, and researched da Vinci’s work and teachers. She created the original statue (currently in Milan), and a only few copies –  including the replica here at Meijer Gardens. Lucky us!

When our daughter first saw it, at the age of 2, she gasped in surprise, and RAN underneath the horse. For once, I wasn’t telling her to run AWAY from a horse’s hooves. We’ve had many anatomy lessons (yes, the horse shows all), talks of history and art, and even physics – while rolling up and down the steep hills behind it, to gain perspective. Kids are not the only ones that joyfully engage with the da Vinci horse. Adults pose playfully for photos; entire classes come to study and draw; people wander by during concerts; picknickers dine in its shade (I recommend spending time under the front half of the horse, for aesthetic purposes).

There are also a plethora of incredible statues in Meijer Gardens. In fact, Meijer Gardens is a world-class treasure – one of the Top 30 Must See Museums in the World (Delta Sky Magazine, May 2009). The gardens garner as much acclamation as MOMA (NYC), the Cairo Egyptian Museum, and the British Museum (London). It’s truly a gem. There is a beautiful woodland walk (named after my favorite Michigan artist, Gwen Frostic), and a farm replete with statues of animals. There are hundreds of sculptures, both indoors and out.

Deborah Butterfield, Cabin Creek, 1999, Bronze.

The children’s garden for kids to explore is our daughter’s favorite – from playing in the water of the great lakes to being a spider in an oversize nest. There are dragons, and speaking tubes very far apart. And, always, there is art.

at the Great Lakes pools, Lena Meijer Children's Garden

The atmosphere of discovery draws me. Walk along the concrete paths, and be continually surprised – by a hidden pond, oversized eggs, moving rectangles reflected in a still pond, live art in the form of koi at the base of a waterfall, a goose bursting from the trees, a half face, tilted sideways – this art is incredible, joyful, inspiring.

Chihuly at Meijer Gardens Waterfalls


Meijer Gardens has special exhibits (including a recent one of Chihuly’s work), an annual butterfly exhibit that is a breath of fresh (and warm) air at the end of winter, concerts, lectures, and holiday trees from around the world. The da Vinci horse may draw you in, but the extraordinary art – and joy of discovery – will keep you there.

Igor Mitoraj, Light of the Moon, 1991-1992, Bronze.

all photos courtesy and copyright J Voigts

by Jessie Voigts

Dr. Jessie Voigts is the publisher of Wandering Educators, a community for global educators.

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