An Afternoon at Meijer Gardens

It’s no secret that I love Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The plants are normally what draws me in (duh) but this time it was something different. Rebecca Louise Law’s exhibit “The Womb,” ends this week and I didn’t want to miss it. 

ENJOYING SOLITUDE

I love art. I had never been to a museum by myself before, and to be entirely honest, I was a little nervous. However, I had a wonderful afternoon just strolling through Meijer Gardens at my own leisure, taking everything in, spending as much or as little time as I wanted at each area or exhibit. I realized very quickly that I may have been by myself, but I wasn’t alone. Arguably, more than anything, I really enjoyed the people watching. There were students hunkered down with their sketchbooks, kids with their parents and retirees enjoying a leisurely afternoon. All in all, it was a great experience filled with self-reflection, contemplation and inspiration. If you’ve never been to a museum by yourself, I highly recommend it. 

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THE WOMB

The Womb, which has been on display at Meijer Gardens since Sept. 2019, explores the intimate relationship between humankind and nature. The mixed-media exhibit features oil paintings and glass blown uteruses, but the main attraction is an installation offering the viewer a solitary, sublime experience of being enveloped in nature—a cocoon of sorts, made of one million hand-strung, dried flowers.

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In the installation, flowers and other plant matter like herbs and pine cones are suspended from the ceiling by copper wires. They are air-dried, so they still contain their natural oils which are responsible for the floral scent that fills the room.  In the middle, an oval structure, a womb—the exhibition’s namesake— is also suspended and can be walked through by visitors. One thing I wasn’t expecting was the sound of an actual heartbeat, a dull, consistent thud to really drive home the experience of being in utero.

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ART IS SUBJECTIVE

I wanted to see “The Womb” in person because I was intrigued by the idea of an immersive exhibit made entirely of dried flowers. To be entirely honest, it was stunning and I don’t think the pictures do it justice. The UK-based artist, who has a two-year-old son, has said that she was inspired by her own womb and strength as a mother. The exhibit seeks to give visitors both the experience of being in nature and a new appreciation for a mother’s womb.  

I spent probably 45 minutes in the exhibit, taking it in, and watching as other people did the same. Art is such a subjective experience. Some people may find this exhibit to be deeply emotional. I imagine that people who have children, want children, or are trying to have children may have more of a visceral reaction than I did. While I obviously came from a womb, I don’t necessarily fit into any of those buckets. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate it.  I thought that it was beautiful and thought-provoking and was especially inspired by the exhibit’s marriage of both emotional and physical awareness.

BUTTERFLIES ARE BLOOMING 

When I made the somewhat spontaneous decision to head to Meijer Gardens I had two things in mind: The Womb and the Arid Garden (which is where all the cacti, agave, succulents and other desert plants are housed). Once I got there, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the butterflies had already returned. Every spring, Meijer Gardens has an exhibition called “Fred and Dorothy Fitcher Butterflies are Blooming.” I wouldn’t really consider myself to be a “nature” gal and, to be entirely honest, a butterfly exhibit doesn’t seem like something I would be interested in, but I was there two years ago to see it and it was really cool. 

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Butterflies are Blooming is the largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibition in the nation. On an ordinary day, stepping into the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory is like stepping into a different world. It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s overflowing with gorgeous greenery and the white noise of a waterfall can be heard in the background. And to top it all off, from March 1 to April 30, there are 7,000 tropical butterflies flitting around.

A DOSE OF PERSPECTIVE

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As I was strolling through the tropical conservatory, taking pictures and admiring all the plants (many varieties of which I have owned and killed), I overheard an employee talking to a small child who was visiting the exhibit with her parents. She said, “And to think, these butterflies don’t even realize how many people are here to see them.” And it made me a little bit emotional because I couldn’t help but think of how many have shown up for me lately.

TL;DR

Doing anything on your own can be overwhelming—but in the end, you’ll find that it’s more empowering than anything. Take a risk, do the thing, and you’ll be glad you did. And don’t forget to visit Meijer Gardens Butterflies are Blooming sometime between March 1 and April 30.

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