Eila Hiltunen’s landmark sculpture, Passio Musicae pays tribute to Finland’s Jean Sibelius, but not without controversy.
Sibelius was an internationally acclaimed symphonic composer inspired by Finnish folklore. Long regarded by Finns as a national icon, his celebrity and talent sparked a public fundraising campaign to memorialize him in a meaningful way after his death in 1957, while also fueling a public debate on the purpose of public art.
In 1961, the Sibelius Society arranged a competition among 50 of Finland’s finest sculptors. The local jury recognized five finalists with statuary proposals and gave consideration to Hiltunen’s abstract design of 600 stainless steel tubes clustered in free-form formations.
The second tier of judging was bolstered by three additional experts of international reputation, who ultimately favored Hiltunen’s more refined proposal, and awarded her the commission,
immediately angering half of Finland’s population who favored a more figurative solution (later added by Hiltunen as a compromise),
yet pleasing the other half of the nation looking for a modernist approach.
But irony abounds when Hiltunen’s monument honors an accomplished violinist, but resembles a mighty display of scrolled organ pipes, or perhaps a birch forest or the Northern Lights to an imaginative viewer.
Nearby, Leah and I huddled for warmth inside a fanciful shoebox called Cafe Regatta, located on the edge of the park,
to contemplate the Sibelius monument, and enjoy a hot cocoa and donut…
while around the bend, on the water’s edge,
two hearty locals dared to dip into icy waters–
reminding me that taking the plunge is risky, but the results can take your breath away.
Leah and I had set up camp near Muskegon, MI with plans to visit Grand Rapids for an evening concert with “Weird Al” Yankovic. Being one hour away, we decided to make a day of it and explore the Grand Rapids area, but we needed an activity to keep us occupied until late afternoon, and it had to be captivating. After an internet search, all roads led to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.
Not knowing what to expect, we packed a lunch and set a course for what Trip Adviser informed us was the #1 attraction in Grand Rapids. With over 2800 reviews, who were we to argue with such a consensus. Upon arrival, our first impression was the immensity of the property (158 acres), And the bigness was becoming bigger with new construction all around us.
Apparently, Frederik Meijer was a big success. Who knew? Turns out, Fred was a supermarket magnate worth billions, and this park was to be his legacy–with an endowment fit for a world-class museum, and subsequent listing by 1,000 Places to See before You Die as one of the “30 Must-See Museums” in the world.
There is an impressive conservatory on the grounds with flora from every climate and environment, including a trove of carniverous plants,
but it was a beautiful day and we were there to walk the Japanese gardens…
and celebrate Meijer’s devotion to outdoor sculpture.
These are a few of my favorite things…listed alphabetically by artist:
Our time through the park went quickly. We walked over 2 miles, and returned to the parking lot to find hundreds of people tailgating behind the amphitheater, awaiting Lyle Lovett’s evening performance. Had we not made previous plans to see “Weird Al,” it would have been the perfect venue for another songfest from Lyle (seeMusic City, USA).
We must return some other day…after checking the concert calendar first.
when the sight of a 17-foot grazing giraffe (Aspen Zoe) craning over a split-rail fence caught our attention,
causing us to catch a second look.
The open field before us provided a perfect pedestal for oversized sculptures.
The allure of a hidden sculpture garden amid the cedars and firs of the Cascades was galvanizing, and had us hooked.
We felt magnetically drawn to the magical monstrosities, and compelled to turn into the gravel driveway for a closer look, sharing the parking lot with The Angel from Hell.
The gatekeeper was generous, allowing us passage,
and we were free to roam through Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Parkfor a small donation.
I turned to Leah, pointing to the bird…
“Check it out. Toucan get in for the price of one!” I mused.
“Your jokes are a bit rusty,” she retorted.
“True,” I countered, “but at least I beaked your interest.
We paused at our first fish-out-of-water encounter to admire the mechanical calculus of mashing a gearhead, cogs and sprockets together with a wheel here, and a drain cover there, and accented with a fan blade for a fin, and a saw blade for a snout, wrapped around an exoskeleton of grating.
“How many horseshoes do you think it took to fabricate the skin?” Leah wondered aloud.
We stepped around for a different perspective.
“Why don’t you ask the artist,” volunteered a robust woman wearing a calico print apron and approaching us from the porch. Indicating afar with her pointer finger, “That’s my husband on the tractor out there, just about finishing up the front yard cut. He’d be happy to meet-cha by the garage, cuz he loves talking about his art.”
Dan Klennert was hungry for conversation, and passionate about his process of collecting junk.
He walked us through the nerve center of his creative cocoon, where all things junk were separated according to subject and size, and stacked in stalls that reached to the rafters.
There are scores of “works in progress” scattered throughout the warehouse that originated on the whim and inspiration of a stray piece of driftwood, or the basin of a wheelbarrow, or the rotary cage of a lawnmower.
Dan is a junk whisperer of sorts. As he sifts through new collections of scrap that he regularly inherits from area farmers and ranchers, he gets a “tingle of inspiration” when he comes across something special.
“This here’s gonna be a whale,” Dan claims, showing us the sweep of the bough with the sweep of his hand. “And this eagle I got started on, I’m still waitin’ on the perfect piece that gonna be his wings.”
“I grew up in a small town called Crookston, MN,” he recalls, “and as a kid, I loved to draw. When I was seven, my family moved to Seattle. That’s when I started pulling my red wagon around the neighborhood, and collecting things from junk piles. I wasn’t much of a student then, but Friday was always my favorite day of the week, because Friday was art day at school.”
Dan became a mechanic by age 22 and learned from a foreman “how to glue two pieces of metal with a welder.”
“I found a way to put together the two things I loved most, scrounging and art,” confides Dan.
Leah and I continued our tour of the property, where the playful…
and the whimsical…
intercepted with the spiritual…
and the carnal…
But it’s safe to say that Dan Klennert has found his Eden on earth. His four-acre niche has given him a place to park the variations of a mechanical mind that melds an anchor to a sprinkler to imagine a snail, as he earnestly nudges the nuance of ex-nihilo–creation out of nothing.