Drawn Into Form: Sixty Years of Drawings and Prints by Beverly Pepper

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Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is honored to present the premier exhibition of drawings and prints by iconic Contemporary sculptor, Beverly Pepper. Known regionally for her soaring steel Galileo’s Wedge, a favorite in our Sculpture Park since 2009, Pepper’s monumental sculptures are celebrated from Manhattan to San Francisco. Our galleries will display more than seventy works, dating from the 1950s to present. Never before seen in public, these works on paper are a treasury of ideas and forms.

Pepper Steel

Pepper first emerged on the international scene in 1962 as the only female artist to be invited to exhibit her early steel creations with established figures like Alexander Calder and David Smith. Her career has been both prolific and prodigious across the course of Contemporary art. A pioneering force for women in the visual arts, Pepper joins Barbara Hepworth, Louise Nevelson and Louise Bourgeois to form the quartet of female sculptors foundational to opening doors for young women artists.

This exhibition coincides with the artist’s 95th birthday and celebrate her extraordinary gift to Meijer Gardens that spans nearly 900 sketches, drawings, prints and notebooks, as well as a series of models, including Galileo’s Wedge. Among the rarities of her gift is a series of sketchbooks Pepper maintained over her career. Although Pepper’s sculptures are featured in prominent public and private collections across the globe, her works on paper–especially her drawings–are little known yet have a critical role in her studio practice and trace the trajectory of her career, from observational life studies to abstraction.

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Born in Brooklyn, Pepper trained at both the Pratt Institute and the Art Students League in New York. She enjoyed a successful early career in advertising before leaving America for an impoverished, post-World War II France to become an artist. There, she studied with Modern masters Fernand Léger and André Lhote. She also met and married fellow American Bill Pepper (1917-2014), a reporter turned bureau chief for Newsweek and acclaimed author. The couple settled in Rome, where Pepper established her first studio. For more than a half century, they divided their time and respective creative endeavors between Italy and New York.

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The exhibition opens with a series of extraordinary street drawings of post-war Rome that depict Pepper’s fascination with the remnants of the Old World giving way to the new. These drawings capture workers and wives, children and Cardinals in everyday life. A trip to Southeast Asia in 1960 captivated the artist and led to a dramatic change in style; still figurative, these new drawings were decidedly abstracted and served as a springboard for her non-representational imagery. In her bountiful two-dimensional works from the mid-1960s through the 1980s, the mature Pepper shows her full command of an abstract vocabulary of forms, conquering a quest for a sense of monumentality. Some drawings are sketches for sculptures, others are highly detailed studies. When she begins making prints, the relationship between two- and three-dimensional imagery extends even further. In Pepper’s repertoire, the dialogue among all forms is fluent and flawless.

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From her studio in the Umbrian countryside, Pepper continues to draw and make sculpture. Since the 1990s, her drawings often link to her sculptures yet are bold explorations of form. Drawn Into Form: Sixty Years of Drawings and Prints by Beverly Pepper is a groundbreaking exhibition of one of America’s greatest living artists and a grateful commemoration of one of the most important legacy gifts made to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park– a true cause for celebration and exploration.

Winter in the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden


Have you discovered winter fun and many ways for adults and even the youngest curious minds to get outside and learn through play during this frosty season?

Winter Time Walks, held throughout the week and weekend, are hosted by PALs and highlight winter, Christmas and holiday traditions. Tuesdays at 10:15 am and 11:15 am and Saturdays at 11:15 am during Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World, guests are invited to explore the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden with themed walks that are followed by a correlating storytime. These themes are Garden Carol, Mitten Motifs, Tree Dance, Winter Wonderland, Bird Senses, and Children’s Garden Pioneers.

Sung to the 12 days of Christmas during Garden Carol, guests take walks through the garden as a group of true friends finds for them several exciting features that highlight the Children’s Garden.

With Mitten Motifs guests learn multicultural appreciation through designs and symbols on mittens that come from around the globe and even attempt to all fit in the “mitten- shape” at the map of Michigan in the Great Lakes Garden.

Tree Dance invites guests of all ages to find the rhythm and the motion of trees, taking a closer look at the shapes each canopy makes in the winter.

Guests will be invigorated by going on a snowflake hunt throughout the Butterfly Maze after learning about their hexagonal shape on a Children’s Garden Winter Wonderland Walk.

Learning the calls of plush birds and how birds use their senses in the Kid-Sense Garden is the highlight of Bird Senses.

Finally, after learning about animals in their winter homes made from natural materials, find engaging chores in a people home made with similar resources in with Children’s Garden Pioneers.

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After the thrill of Winter-time Walks, Winter-themed and Christmas and Holiday Traditions-themed storytimes wrap up in January, guests bundle up and venture out into the Children’s Garden to explore tracks and permanent features in the snow. Self-guided play is encouraged during the months of January and February, until we invite guests to celebrate winter with Winter Family Day on February 10th from 1-4 pm with complimentary hot chocolate, ice sculpture, winter craft, a Naturalist Walk and more.

The Lena Meijer Children’s Garden is the place to be this winter for guests of all ages!

Volunteer of the Year: Nancy LePage

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Volunteer of the Year Nancy LePage (second from left) pictured with Meijer Gardens Volunteer Manager Amber Oudsema (left), HR Manager Angela Violet (second from right) and HR/Volunteer Coordinator Jess Knapp (right)

By Nancy Crawley

Don’t look for the 2017 Volunteer Of The Year in the main halls of Meijer Gardens or the conservatories or the outdoor gardens.

You’ll find Nancy LePage in the lower-level offices, far from the pathways used by visitors and most other volunteers.

There, the cheerful, hard-working 73-year-old spends two or three days a week doing secretarial work for the bustling communications department.

She manages files and archives, inputs data, updates the website, proofreads, and does tedious jobs that demand time and concentration. “I tell people I’ll do any dirt job,” she says with a laugh and twinkle in her eyes.

A volunteer for about 14 years, Nancy was honored Oct. 25 at the annual Connie Snell Volunteer Recognition Dinner where hundreds of volunteers as well as staff members gathered to recognize outstanding volunteers.

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Nancy LePage presented with her award

There, with tears in her eyes, the surprised and delighted Nancy received her award, and lots of hugs, from Meijer Gardens President and CEO David Hooker and Volunteer Manager Amber Oudsema. Of course, communications staffers were in the audience to cheer for her.

Nancy is a transplant from the east side of the state. She was born and raised in Northwest Detroit, and she and her husband Ron raised three children in Woodhaven, south of Detroit.

She held a variety of jobs, including executive secretary at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers headquarters in Dearborn. Later, she ran her own secretarial services business.

After they retired, the couple moved to the Grand Rapids area to be near their daughter and grandchildren. It wasn’t long after she arrived that a neighbor suggested she try volunteering at Meijer Gardens.

But Nancy didn’t start out in the communications office. First, she tried several other volunteer roles. When the communications spot opened, she was interviewed by the director of communications, Roger Bleiler. “We really hit it off,” she said, and now she enjoys working with the entire staff.

She has been in the office for 12 years, working 12-14 hours a week. In total, she has chalked up more than 5,600 volunteer hours.

“As you age, you want to feel useful, that your talents and skills are beneficial,” she said. “If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it.”


Nancy pictured with Meijer Gardens President & CEO David Hooker

Remembering Helen DeVos


Helen and Richard DeVos at the opening of the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden

We are saddened by the news of Mrs. Helen DeVos’ passing. Her support of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and institutions in West Michigan and beyond is cherished and will never be forgotten.

The DeVos’ incredible generosity made the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden possible. It is a world of timeless tranquility that has been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors and will continue to inspire for many years to come.

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Sunrise in the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden

“While we grieve her passing, we rejoice in her new life in heaven and are grateful for the countless ways she blessed our lives. We are comforted in knowing that she was welcomed home into the loving arms of Jesus,” her family said in a statement. “We will never forget her unfailing love, strength and devotion that were truly the heart of our family.”

“We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of our dear friend, Helen DeVos,” said Meijer Gardens President and CEO David Hooker, “Mrs. DeVos led a life of service and distinction that is an inspiration to all people. Personally, my life has been significantly enriched by getting to know Mrs. DeVos over the years and witnessing the way she chose to live her life. From the conversations at the many cultural events I had the pleasure to see her at, to the times when I was privileged to spend extended periods of time touring Meijer Gardens with her, Mrs. DeVos was always engaging and a ton a fun to be with. Her humor and grace were truly very special. I was always very impressed by the way she took the time to greet many strangers and share kind words and make connections to mutual friends and family. Meijer Gardens is extraordinarily blessed to have her name along with her husband’s on our Japanese garden. The garden has quickly become a favorite of the West Michigan community and has attracted people from around the world. During our tours together of the Japanese garden, she would often thank me and the Meijers for the opportunity to be part of this amazing place of peace, tranquility, and harmony. We are all very fortunate to be the beneficiaries of her generosity. We will miss her and are extremely thankful we could call Mrs. DeVos a friend. Through Christian faith she has now claimed her resurrection. The rest of us are left with our memories of her and the things she has done to make our world a better place. Along with her faith journey, her greatest legacy is her children and grandchildren and their families. Dick, Dan, Cheri, and Doug’s lives are a reflection of their mother’s values, dedication to family and her example as a woman of service. Our community is enormously blessed to have all her children living here in West Michigan as leaders and committing themselves to making our community the best place to live and work in all the land.”

Hooker also shared a personal story of another time his life was changed by the DeVos family. “Twenty-six years ago my son was born 23 weeks premature and spent 99 days in what eventually became Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Many years later I toured the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I walked around and saw the incredible facilities and scores of professionals there to care for children and families in need. We have a resource that is beyond fantastic to serve others in times of great need. One measure of a community is how it takes care of its children. West Michigan measures very well indeed. Thank you, Helen DeVos, for the way you lived your life and for all the good works you did to make other lives better.”


Meijer Gardens President and CEO David Hooker, Helen and Richard DeVos, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder at the opening of the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden in 2015


For more, watch this story from WOODTV8 that details Mrs. DeVos’ dedication to the arts and culture of West Michigan and beyond.

Tribute locations to change with expansion


If you have visited recently, you’ll notice that expansion of our main campus as part of our capital campaign Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love has begun! It is because of the generous gifts of friends old and new that we are able to expand the reach of our mission and welcome many more guests in the future. Truly, a project this transformational reminds us of our foundational beginnings, a legacy of generosity we will continue to commemorate.

As part of the expansion project, many locations at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park will be affected. If your contribution has supported the installation of a stepping stone, brick or other item, or has named an element of a previous capital campaign, then please know that we will continue to honor and recognize your gift. The placement of your tribute item may not be in the exact same location, but it will be located in an appropriate, beautiful area. When our renovation is complete, we will let you know if its new location.

For more information on the capital campaign, we invite you to view our website at meijergardens.org/growing for more details on the project and campaign.

If you have any questions, please contact Anne Benson, Director of Development & Membership, at (616) 975-3177 or abenson@meijergardens.org.

Inside/Outside: An Interactive Sculpture Experience for Families


Essay by Linda Thompson, Former Director of Education

Imagination meets interactivity in Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s newest sculpture experience, “Inside/Outside: An Interactive Sculpture Experience for Families.” The space was created to welcome families to this engaging new space, which was intentionally designed to encourage even the youngest children to experience the connection between sculpture and horticulture. It’s four-season fun, for all ages.

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Each of the eight educational stations includes a hands-on activity that underscores the main concept of the featured sculpture. Experience kinetic sculpture by moving a unique inspiration of George Rickey’s “Four Open Squares Horizontal Gyratory–Tapered” using your own strength as wind power. Create representations of Joan Miró’s “Woman and Bird” using selected recognizable found objects and magnets to personalize your work. Turn panels to create “shape designs” á la Louise Nevelson’s “Atmosphere and Environment XI.” Family-friendly signage accompanies all eight stations, to explain the significance of both the sculptures and the artists themselves — including interesting tidbits about the artists as children.

One sculpture, George Segal’s “Woman in Armchair,” begs kids to use their imaginations as they sit in a similar armchair and model the same body language as the figure while asking their parents to take a picture of them. Kids can then select their favorite background scene and “become” the sculpture itself.

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Even the flooring in this new exhibition is interactive. As you explore the space, note the digitally-printed carpeting that includes a meandering pathway through all four seasons and dozens of hidden images. This unusual search-and-find activity will surely delight guests, from toddlers to teens. Further defining the path will be photographic panels emphasizing the horticultural setting of each sculpture. Activity cards challenge kids to partner with their parents and tackle activities inside the exhibition space and outdoors, too.

“Inside/Outside: An Interactive Sculpture Experience for Families” is yet another way Meijer Gardens encourages children to bond with sculpture and foster a lifetime enjoyment of the arts. This intriguing exhibition experience will remain open until a new one replaces it in the upcoming Covenant Learning Center, which will feature permanent space dedicated to interactive family exhibitions.

Inside/Outside: An Interactive Sculpture Experience for Families opens Friday, September 15, 2017! 

Jess Hart steps into new role


Jessica Hart, Education Director. Photo by Nancy Crawley

By Nancy Crawley

Jessica Hart takes over as education director at an important pivot point for Meijer Gardens.

The 34-year-old suburban Boston native becomes the first new education leader in 17 years — just as The Gardens launches a major expansion this fall.

That includes construction of a 20,000-square-foot Covenant Learning Center that dramatically increases classroom space for the tens of thousands of school students who visit every year. Last year, 40,000 students alone streamed through the halls.

Starting her new job June 1, Jess, as she prefers to be called, succeeded Linda Thompson who retired after many years with the Gardens.

“I’m so excited about the opportunities that will come with the new education center,” Jess said. “It means a tripling of space that allows us to increase classroom activities and incorporate educational technology in new ways.”

The Learning Center will be a merging and expansion of the lower level classrooms, pushing space out toward the wetlands.

Jess is already familiar with the Gardens’ educational programming. For 2 1/2 years, she was indoor education manager, supervising scores of docents and Bus Buddy volunteers and the whole range of indoor activities for school groups.

With a staff of 12, Jess now manages a department that oversees outdoor school visits, summer  camps and Children’s Gardens events, classes for adults and families, bus trips, the various lecture series, programming for sculpture exhibits, the library and the many weekend and special events programs.

As the educational component grows to serve more students, “we hope to expand that staff in the years to come,” she said.

Jess comes with a strong background in education. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English literature at Boston University, she obtained a Massachusetts teaching license.

She traveled the country, working for a private firm specializing in literacy strategies. Before coming to Michigan, she lived in Louisiana, Colorado, Wyoming and Alaska, training teachers in literacy skills.  “It was great fun to travel, see new places and meet people,” she said.

She enjoys being outdoors, loves hiking and kayaking, and making annual trips to Maine to savor the rugged terrain, not mention the fresh seafood. She is also a gardener, putting in a large vegetable plot every summer. And in the fall, she gets busy putting up decorations to welcome trick or treaters at Halloween. “I have a new theme every year.”

Working at the Gardens has been a great fit for her, she said. “I love being here, it’s such an inspiring, exciting place with a fabulous team of talented and dedicated people.”