Somewhere, there’s a big horse. A monumental horse. An artistic masterpiece. A horse whose pictures I’d seen while researching a new travel article about Michigan. But how did I never know about this horse? The DaVinci Horse was its name. And it would lead me on a journey to Grand Rapids to discover one of the world’s greatest art sculpture parks.
It was a summer of exploring my artsy side. My right brain decided to take the reins and guide me on a journey of dabbling in an unexplored talent that I assumed would lead me to fame, fortune, and go down in history alongside the Picassos, Van Goghs, and Monets of the world. I took daily trips to Michaels, browsing paint and DIY crafts I could incorporate in my next piece. And the Detroit Institute of Art was my playground to brag about knowing the backstory of a painting and wondering if my own life was interesting enough to get a piece displayed alongside it.
I leaped at every opportunity to see the creative genius of art in person. Maybe it would somehow rub off on me and inspire that life-changing masterpiece I’ve been searching for. So, when I first learned about the DaVinci Horse, I had to see it.
My family and I were already planning a road trip to the western side of the state to visit the Saugatuck Dunes State Park. My excitement was contagious because everyone unanimously agreed that we could make a stop in Grand Rapids on the way back from Lake Michigan to visit the Frederik Meijer Sculpture Garden.
I felt like an emerging artist on the brink of being discovered. Only a few weeks into tapping into my inner artist, and here I was making trips to see famous works of art. It’s all part of the story that audioguides will tell museum patrons wandering in my exhibit one day. My personal work embarrassingly reflected my lack of experience. Still, I figured memorizing art talks that obscurely describe vague artwork might make an art critic take a second look at my work.
We dragged our feet across the dewy ground that Friday morning to hop in the car for an entire day in Saugatuck. Researching the most famous sculptures in the garden and the artists who created them consumed me the entire three-hour car ride. After all, my horse couldn’t be the only thing to see in the park if this was indeed one of the largest sculpture gardens of its kind.
Saugatuck has a distinct artsy coastal vibe. At least that’s how I saw it from my perspective. Seeing the immense Lake Michigan from atop a dune sparked thoughts of local painters depicting the picturesque scenery on canvases. Or coercing my family to pop our heads in the local galleries to see niche collections of African sculptures and coastal-inspired paintings. It was a place I imagined myself spending a season of my make-believe art career living in a charming harborside cottage to escape the intrusive fame.
But nothing rid my horse from my mind. DaVinci’s horse trotted through each one of my daydreams. Saugatuck was fun, but I was so close to what was really occupying my thoughts. We had dinner at a local restaurant with views of the dock and headed out. It would be dark by the time we arrived after the 40-minute drive to Grand Rapids. Straight to bed I went because I was only a few hours away from meeting my horse.
My king-sized bed felt like cloud nine. But my alarm clock snooze button wasn’t even necessary today because I could nearby hear the “neighing” in the distance. I stuffed my face with do-it-yourself waffles and cranberry juice from the complimentary buffet and awaited the rest of my family to come down to the lobby.
“You have now arrived at your destination. 1000 E Beltline Ave.” The built-in car GPS chimed words that I’ve anticipated this entire trip. And judging by the large metallic sculptures greeting us as we circled around to the parking lot, it was about to be plenty of art pieces across this 158-acres park that would satisfy my artistic cravings.
We were one of the first in line. I had read that getting there early would beat the crowds to a place that attracts three-quarter million visitors every year. The receptionist seemed to still be settling into her seat as we approached the counter. “Four tickets, please.”
A dimly lit museum was the first thing we encountered. Spotlights shining directly on the wall-hanging artwork provided the only light source as if to force our gazes on the exhibition. Paper machete statues recreating scenes of city life and regal portraits painted of people that I probably should’ve recognized filled the galleries. And next was a botanical garden that I rushed through while trying to appear remotely interested in these leafy objects overhanging the path.
The appetizer was over. We finally made it outside to the famous garden. Our GPS navigated us across the state, and now a nearby wooden sign with a left-pointing arrow carved neatly above the words reading “DaVinci Horse” provided the last bit of instructions before I finally lay my eyes on my horse.
It was as majestic as I’d imagined. DaVinci’s horse stood frozen in mid trot as if posing after a few successful laps galloping across the hills resting behind it. I spied at my horse through the brush as it towered over the speckles of people standing at its hooves. I wanted to meet it alone—to share a moment of art apprentice staring at a masterpiece born from the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, the genius creator behind the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.
My heart beat faster as I approached the colossal sculpture that grew with each step that closer I got. I placed my hand on the bronze hoof and peered up at the 24-ft tall statue. Every detail was impressive, rendering flowing hair and flexing muscles carved to perfection. I posed for a few pictures but spent most of the time admiring the statue. I forgot all about the momentary pursuit of trying to be an artist and took a moment to appreciate a true work of art. I made it.
We spent another three hours in the sculpture garden seeing artistic creations of dragons, trees, and other abstract pieces from famous artists like Keith Haring and Ai WeiWei. The garden trail led us back to the starting point near DaVinci’s horse. It granted me one last look at the beauty. “Goodbye, my horse, until we meet again.”