Volunteer Manager Tom Hoving’s Next Chapter


You can get an idea of Tom’s personality by reading the back of his car!

By Nancy Crawley

Tom Hoving wraps up 14 years as Meijer Gardens Volunteer Manager in June, retiring with the well wishes of hundreds of volunteers. “We’re sad to see him go, but excited for him,” said volunteer Thora White. “He always has the volunteers’ back.”

During his time at Meijer Gardens, the ranks of volunteers swelled dramatically with the addition of the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, Michigan’s Farm Garden, Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater and the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden. Every year, volunteers contributed 65,000 hours when Tom started. Now, the roster runs a thousand names long, with volunteers donating 88,000 hours for what is surely one of the largest volunteer operations in West Michigan.


Tom Hoving, sharing a few words during his employee send-off.

Tom’s job has been a big one—first to recruit and orient newbies before they become gardeners, docents, gift shop clerks, tram drivers and other important jobs, then to make sure they have uniforms, badges, login IDs, and coffee, lots of hot coffee in the volunteer center. He also lines up volunteers for the Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition, Christmas tree decorating, holiday parties and 30 concerts during the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts at Meijer Gardens and nine concerts during the Tuesday Evening Music Club—each requiring 35 volunteers. “There are times when we have four or five concerts a week—that’s a lot of scheduling for back-to-back concerts,” he said. “That’s the hardest part of my job—that, and going to funerals of volunteers.” Through it all, Tom has been cheerful, patient and resilient. And volunteers love him for it. “I always knew Tom would be there to listen, provide advice, or put a smile on my face,” volunteer Sally Schaafsma said.

Born in Chicago and moving to Holland as a teen, Tom worked 22 years at an office furniture company—and one year as volunteer coordinator for the Ronald McDonald House. For five years, he volunteered in the Meijer Gardens indoor horticulture department—a natural fit for the master gardener who had a large garden at home. “Gardening was therapy for me,” he said.

In 2003, he was tapped for a job that quickly turned into Volunteer Manager. His success has much to do with setting a professional, friendly tone for all volunteers, from teens to those north of 90. “I think it’s my ability to connect with the volunteers,” he said, “and that it’s clear how much I love this place.”

But, once retired, Tom will not return to volunteering soon. He wants to wait until his replacement gets comfortable in the job. “I have 10 grandchildren, none in town, so I’m going to do some traveling.”

Still he intends to return some day. “It will feel,” he said, “like I’m going full circle.”


A Short History of the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park Logo


By Roger Bleiler, Director of Communications

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a unique place, with a unique mission—and an even more unique logo. A graphic designer and personal friend recently commented that the Meijer Gardens logo is one of the most original and unusual logos she’d ever seen. It occurred to me that even though the logo is the most visible part of the Meijer Gardens communications, many people may not know much about how it came to be.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a logo is a design made up of text and images that helps guests identify one organization from another. Like most logos, the Meijer Gardens logo has two components: the logomark (the tree-like image that represents our mission) and the logotype (our name, designed in a customized way).

Here are some interesting factoids about our unique and enigmatic logo:

  • In 2003, the West Michigan Botanic Society, dba Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park (yes, that was our full name) commissioned a comprehensive brand evaluation from Grand Rapids-based De Meyer Brand Consultants. The two main recommendations were to shorten our name and to develop a new logo.
  • In January 2004, Gregg Palazzolo of Ada—one of Michigan’s premier brand designers—was chosen from 18 candidates to design our new logo.
  • Although many designs were submitted, the chosen design was clearly inspired by Kenneth Snelson’s B-Tree. As you can see in the comparison (above), the logomark is a free-form interpretation of the towering, stainless-steel abstract sculpture visible at the main entry.
  • The logo colors—a playful bright spring green and an elegant charcoal gray—complement our mission of promoting the enjoyment, understanding, and appreciation of gardens, sculpture, the natural environment and the arts.

While it may not look like other brand identities, the Meijer Gardens logo identifies a unique guest experience that resonates with millions of guests of all ages. The distinctive spring green tree symbolizes a warm and welcoming community gathering place that’s always growing, always beautiful…and always new.

Expert gardener’s advice on waking up your garden for spring

The calendar says it’s time to wake up the garden, but wait. Do you dare wade into sopping wet yards and flower beds after days of heavy rain in West Michigan?

Tony England says go ahead.

The Meijer Gardens horticulturist, with a bachelors in horticulture from Michigan State University, works in all kinds of weather conditions, including soggy. “I haven’t seen any differences,” he said taking a break from his gardening duties on a drizzly morning. “It’s only a problem if you’re talking about heavy equipment compacting the soil.”

In fact, he said, it’s a great time to dig weeds, those dandelions pull out easily from wet soil.

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Tony England, horticulturist, fills pots in the Cook Entry with spring bulb flowers.

So after you pull on rubber boots and gloves, what should you have on your spring cleanup list?

Tony offers his list of chores:

— Rake out dead leaves you didn’t get last fall. They can harbor diseases and pests.
— If you want mulch, he prefers shredded bark mixed with compost that will feed the soil as it breaks down.
— Deadhead flowering bushes, such as hydrangea, that were left for winter interest.
— Trim off spent blooms from daffodil, tulip and hyacinth but don’t cut away food-producing green leaves and stems. If they are too messy for you, cut them half way back and wait for die back before removing completely.
— Cut down ornamental grasses. Trim them to their crown, if they have one, leaving stalks a few inches from the ground. Those without a crown can be cut even closer to the ground.

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Cut last year’s ornamental grasses down to their crowns or close to ground if they don’t have crowns.

— Don’t prune spring-blooming plants until after they are done blooming, including dogwoods, lilacs and spring-blooming spirea. But don’t wait too long. Some set next year’s buds in late summer or early fall.


So gardeners, get ready to get muddy. You can’t blame the wet weather anymore.

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Leslie E. Tassell Engligh Perennial and Bulb Garden filled with spring blooms

Article and photos by Nancy Crawley

About the architects

Since its opening in 1995, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has evolved
into a major cultural attraction focusing on horticulture, sculpture, the environment
and the arts. The original vision has turned into a top cultural destination in the United
States, known internationally for the quality of the art and gardens. Our growth in visitors has been nothing short of phenomenal. Matching that has been the growth of our art collection, our dedicated garden spaces and our educational offerings. Because of this success, major expansion in several key areas is needed. A $115 million capital campaign titled Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love has begun.


Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. Photo by Jason Smith.

New York firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners has been selected to re-envision and expand the facilities. Well-known for their masterful design of the iconic Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and, most recently, chosen to design the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, Williams and Tsien see architecture as “an act of profound optimism.” They have discovered a similar spirit in Meijer Garden’s unique marriage of beautiful art and inspiring green spaces.

“We are deeply honored to be have been selected by Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park for this special project,” said Tod Williams. “From our very first visit, we were struck by the incredible quality of the sculpture collection and its sensitive installation throughout the grounds, as well as by their magnificent Japanese Garden. We saw that the place and the people here are unique.”Guided by Tod and Billie, the design team will ensure that the new Meijer Gardens campus is an expression of the mission of Meijer Gardens in both form and function. Local partners Progressive AE and Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. will be heavily involved with the design and construction process.

TWBT, 2012, Photo by Thomas Grimes

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have been working together since 1977 and founded their architectural practice in 1986. Located in New York, their studio focuses on work for institutions including schools, museums, not-for-profit organizations, and people who value issues of aspiration and meaning, timelessness and beauty. Their buildings are carefully made from the inside out to be functional in ways that speak to both efficiency and the spirit. A sense of rootedness, light, texture, detail, and most of all, experience, are at the heart of what they design. Over the past three decades they have received more than two dozen awards from the American Institute of Architects, as well as numerous national and international citations. Outside the studio, Tod and Billie are devoted participants in the cultural community and have long-standing associations with many arts organizations. They maintain active academic careers and lecture worldwide. As both educators and practitioners, they are deeply committed to making a better world through architecture.

Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, one of the nation’s most significant botanic and sculpture experiences, is excited to announce the launch of a $115 million capital campaign titled Welcoming the World: Honoring a Legacy of Love. Since opening in 1995, Meijer Gardens has experienced tremendous growth in guest attendance, membership, art collections, dedicated garden spaces, and educational programs. Because of this success, major expansion in several key areas is needed.

Welcoming the World Honoring a Legacy of Love Infographic.jpg

“Our focus from the beginning has been to provide an exceptional experience for our members and guests, and we’re thrilled that we have the opportunity to build on our success with this new endeavor,” said President and CEO David Hooker. “At its very essence, Meijer Gardens is a place of joy – and a legacy of love shared by Fred and Lena Meijer, the Meijer family, and thousands of team members, volunteers and donors who have created a special place. The name of our capital campaign reflects the love that Fred and Lena had for each other, for this community, and for sculpture and gardens. We strongly believe the growth of Meijer Gardens will continue and that the organization will thrive for generations to come.”

The project will include:
• A new 60,000 square foot, LEED certified Welcome Center
• A new 20,000 square foot, LEED certified Covenant Learning Center
• A new Peter C. and Emajean Cook Transportation Center
• Expanded and upgraded Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater
• A new Sculpture Garden Entry Plaza
• A reimagined and expanded BISSELL, Inc. Scenic Corridor
• A new Outdoor Picnic Pavilion
• A new Padnos Families Rooftop Sculpture Garden
• Expanded and accessible parking and urban gardens

Welcoming the World Honoring a Legacy of Love 3 Welcome Center Garden Pavilion

Construction is scheduled to begin in fall 2017 and last approximately four years.
The proposed changes will further Meijer Gardens’ mission to promote the enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of gardens, sculpture, the natural environment and the arts. A 2016 economic impact study, conducted by Grand Valley State University, estimated that Meijer Gardens supports or contributes more than $75 million to the Kent County economy each year. This new project addresses facility needs that came from significant growth over the institution’s 22-year history. New areas will allow Meijer Gardens to expand annual horticulture exhibitions, provide more galleries for sculpture exhibitions, add room for guests to move about safely and easily, host more events, and create additional space that is LEED-certified and architecturally significant. The project will also add parking capacity and improve vehicle flow.

New York firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners has been selected to re-envision and expand the facilities. Well-known for their masterful design of the iconic Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and, most recently, chosen to design the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, Williams and Tsien see architecture as “an act of profound optimism.” They have discovered a similar spirit in Meijer Garden’s unique marriage of beautiful art and inspiring green spaces. “We are deeply honored to be have been selected by Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park for this special project,” said Tod Williams. “From our very first visit, we were struck by the incredible quality of the sculpture collection and its sensitive installation throughout the grounds, as well as by their magnificent Japanese Garden. We saw that the place and the people here are unique.” Guided by Tod and Billie, the design team will ensure that the new Meijer Gardens campus is an expression of the mission of Meijer Gardens in both form and function. Local partners Progressive AE and Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. will be heavily involved with the design and construction process.Welcoming the World Honoring a Legacy of Love 5 Padnos Families Rooftop Sculpture Garden

The generosity of the Meijer family and the thousands of donors from our community has helped Meijer Gardens become one of the 100 most visited museums in the world. “We are sincerely grateful for the extraordinarily generous support of the Meijer family and so many others in creating a cultural institution that has served over 10.4 million people,” Hooker said. To date, nearly $102 million has been raised for the capital campaign. “The new facilities will be an amazing expression of our mission never before imagined,” Hooker added. “We’re thrilled with the success of the campaign but mostly, we are deeply moved by the community’s generosity toward Meijer Gardens.”

More images and architectural drawings are available HERE

‘Iron Tree’ by Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei’s ‘Iron Tree’ was made available on permanent display at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in 2015, commemorating the organization’s 20th anniversary through the generosity of Fred and Lena Meijer. 



Photo by Dean Van Dis

As a sculptor, author, and installation artist, Ai Weiwei is one of the most versatile and respected artists in Contemporary art. Although stripped of his passport and confined to limited travel only within China, his work has been exhibited across the globe to widespread acclaim. As an artist, his work ranges from single objects to large installations to historic collaborations resulting in architectural projects like the Beijing National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest” for the 2008 Olympics. As an activist, he has been a champion of free speech and human rights around the world, and, specifically, highly critical of the Chinese government leading to his imprisonment and house arrest.

Standing at more than 22 feet tall and measuring more than 22 feet across, Iron Tree, 2013, is the artist’s largest and most complex outdoor sculpture to date. Meijer Gardens worked in collaboration with the artist, his Beijing studio and foundry, and London gallery to bring this colossal work to Meijer Gardens.

Held together with oversize stainless steel bolts, Iron Tree is composed of 99 unique iron pieces cast from individual tree elements (branches, trunks, roots) from different species collected in the mountainous areas of southern China. From a distance, the sculpture registers as a living tree in form, but as one approaches the work, the details in the diversity of shapes, exaggeration of reality and awkwardness in using bolts in the permanent assembly are clearly understood. As with many of Weiwei’s projects, copying and assemblage play a significant role in communicating ideas. Here, the very notion of bringing together unrelated parts from different areas to become a new unit becomes a metaphor for the complexities and complications of 21st century globalism.

Since 2009, Weiwei has created a series of large wooden sculptures utilizing elements from cut trees sold in the markets of Jingdezhen, China. These elements are sold by local vendors and appreciated for their interesting shapes in the tradition of Chinese scholar’s rocks. Methods of cutting and interlocking the wood elements are based on historic Chinese practices for temple construction. Innovatively, the artist brought together 99 disparate elements, had them cast individually in iron and uniquely conjoined them through a complex bolting system, but connections to traditional Chinese culture remains intact. Iron Tree is the transformed climax of that series.

Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State


Ai Weiwei. Taifeng, 2015. Bamboo and silk. Photo courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio.

Seemingly contrasting themes of tradition and modernity are critical to the work of Ai Weiwei. The Chinese-born artist and activist is internationally heralded as one of the most important cultural figures of our time. He champions free speech and global human rights through his sculpture, installations, film, photography—and his widely followed social media presence. In the last year alone, he has mounted critically acclaimed exhibitions in London, Helsinki, Paris, Melbourne, Florence and New York. His work, through a neverending variety of materials and forms, communicates important concepts about his life, his homeland and the world.

Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State marks the artist’s first exhibition at a botanical garden and sculpture park anywhere in the world, and his premier solo presentation in the upper Midwest. Working with both the sculpture and horticulture departments at Meijer Gardens over the last two years, Ai Weiwei has carefully developed a large-scale exhibition intended to share profound ideas through innovative artwork. In addition to four sculpture galleries, the artist will use four conservatories and numerous public areas of the building. Combined, it’s an exhibition of unprecedented scope, presenting both iconic and recently created work.

The title of the exhibition, Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State, underscores the relationship between artist and institution. It began in 2014 with the acquisition of the colossal sculpture Iron Tree, a gift of Fred and Lena Meijer. Further, it calls attention to the unique circumstances in the artist’s generous decision to exhibit at an organization whose mission is dually focused on horticulture and sculpture. Ai Weiwei and his studio teams in Beijing and Berlin have worked diligently and sensitively to engage with the whole of Meijer Gardens.

The word “natural” sheds light on numerous instances in which the artist will use imagery from the natural world to introduce persuasive ideas and concerns. From meticulously rendered flowers to legions of painstakingly crafted river crabs, references to nature are employed to engage the viewer, leading them to consider important concepts. Although well known for his use of found objects, the word “natural” also calls attention to Ai Weiwei’s thoughtful use of natural materials, from ceramics and silk to bamboo and wood. Often these natural materials are transformed, following time-honored Chinese craft traditions.

Likewise, the word “state” suggests multiple, often interrelated levels of meaning. On the one hand, it may convey a state of being for both a found object or material that the artist uses in a new and innovative way. For example, an ancient urn or a LEGO brick exists in a specific state when the artist encountered them, but he often re-employs them in a new manner to guide and communicate with his audience. A state of being has a human side as well, thematically exploring aspects of humanity across the globe as they are frequently marked by inequality and injustice. These are states of being that the artist feels compelled to call out in order to better the lives of women, men and children everywhere.

Certainly the notion of state refers to political systems that Ai Weiwei has bravely challenged for the betterment of humanity in his native China, but also in the Middle East, Europe and Africa, where he has traveled extensively in recent years. “Today the whole world is still struggling for freedom,” says the artist. “In such a situation, only art can reveal the deep inner voice of every individual with no concern for political borders, nationality, race or religion.”

Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State explores several important themes across the artist’s repertoire. Among the most widespread and engaging are those that involve his own biography. Born in Beijing in 1957, he is the son of the renowned poet Ai Qing (1910–1996). In the following year, his father was labeled an “enemy of the people” and the entire family was exiled to a re-education camp in remote northwestern China. The young Ai Weiwei spent his entire youth until the age of 19 living in the very conditions symbolic of the alienation of free speech in Maoist China. With the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, the family was able to return to Beijing.

Ai Weiwei enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy in 1978 and was among the original members of the avant-garde collective known as the “Stars.” Following a brief period of political openness in China, there was a repression of expression and cultural crackdown, and the young artist left for America in 1981. After a brief period in Philadelphia, the artist lived in New York until 1993. Here, his interest in photography brought him close to the most compelling social and political issues of the day. Additionally, he was exposed to the work of three of the most important artists of the 20th century: Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Each a conceptual master, they are celebrated for the use of found objects or popular culture, greatly influencing Ai Weiwei through to the present day.

When his father fell seriously ill in 1993, Ai Weiwei returned to China. But after 12 years in the United States, he confronted a Chinese society that lacked freedom of speech and constrained fundamental human rights. He embarked on an intense period of writing and publishing, as well as organizing and presenting performances and exhibitions that examined the duality of belonging and rebellion. In 1995, the artist created Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn. This triptych of large-scale photographs symbolically challenges the repressive cultural history of China in 20th cum 21st centuries through the destruction of a 2,000-year-old vase. The Meijer Gardens’ 2016 version has been recreated with innocent and globally ever-present LEGO bricks, which the artist has utilized in recent years. The use of found objects recalls the impact of Duchamp and Johns, while the use of popular culture items are a hallmark to the work of Warhol.

By the late 1990s, Ai Weiwei developed skills as an architect, eventually collaborating with the firm Herzog and DeMeuron on the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. This was an extremely important period for the artist. In 2008, he was a signatory of the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights and used his acclaim and social media savvy as an activist. This period was also marked by the devastating Sichuan Province earthquake. The disaster led the artist to organize volunteers to investigate the deaths of thousands of schoolchildren in collapsed buildings that were marked by substandard government construction. His involvement led to his censorship by the Chinese government, his arrest and his subsequent beating.

Illumination is perhaps among the most poignant images in the exhibition. With extraordinary presence of mind, Ai Weiwei captured a “selfie” at the time of his arrest and later tweeted it to the world. The title suggests a moment of light, enlightenment and clarity that was critical to share. In the years following, he was closely monitored by Chinese officials, climaxing in his secret arrest on April 3, 2011 and his imprisonment for 81 days. Although released, his passport was confiscated and he was unable to travel until July 2015.


Ai Weiwei. Illumination, 2009. Color photograph. Photo courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio.

Several of the works on display in the Meijer Gardens exhibition symbolically narrate personal events that have a broader, even universal importance. The extraordinarily crafted porcelain sculpture Bicycle Basket with Flowers in Porcelain is among them. Beginning in November 2013, Ai Weiwei placed a bouquet of fresh flowers in the basket of his bicycle outside his Beijing studio and continued this action every day until his passport was returned. A personally poetic act of symbolic beauty was a show of defiance against state repression at large. This sculpture and related photography are among those that commemorate a daily activity in more permanent terms.

However, the sculpture is equally a visual tour de force for the traditional Chinese craftsmanship of porcelain, which dates back centuries in Jingdezhen, the ancient capital of fine porcelain ware. Similarly, the breathtaking sculptural field Blossom never fails to astonish the eye, but ultimately its connection to the “Hundred Flowers Movement,” when Chinese officials briefly relaxed their stance on freedom of expression in 1956, cannot be denied. The work, like the movement itself, is beautiful but fragile.


Ai Weiwei. He Xie, 2010. Porcelain. Photo courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio

The balance between visual delight or intrigue and multiple layers of meaning is what sets Ai Weiwei apart from many of his contemporaries and continually captures the attention of the international cultural community. He Xie, another major work in porcelain, astounds even the most casual viewer with hundreds of life-like river crabs. At one level, the installation refers to a critical moment when the artist was placed under house arrest while his new studio was demolished by authorities. But in an act of defiance, the artist treated 800 guests to a feast of river crabs. At a broader, cultural level, he xie means “river crab” and is a homonym for “harmony” in Chinese, a government slogan which has come to mean “censorship,” especially with regard to the internet.

The artist’s regard for traditional Chinese culture can be lyrical as well, as featured in five colossal creatures made from bamboo and silk. Each fantastical form was inspired by the artist’s adult reading of the 2000-year-old Chinese mythology, Classic of Mountains and Seas—which he was unable to read as a youth. Masterpieces like Taifeng, the god of luck, mesmerize in innovative form and scale, but also captivate through the adaptation of traditional Chinese kite making techniques from Weifang, Shandong Province.

Ai Weiwei at Meijer Gardens: Natural State is an unprecedented exhibition in scale and meaning, with more than 30 works by one of the most distinguished artists of our time. From galleries to conservatories, from public spaces to our auditorium, the transformation of Meijer Gardens will be unlike any other project for the organization. In sharing his biography, ideas and concerns for freedom of speech and human rights, Ai Weiwei is truly a global leader. His sculptures, installations, photography and film engage, challenge, and astonish—and remind us that “Art is not an end, but a beginning.