Many people refer to the big orange metal sculpture in downtown Grand Rapids as just "The Calder". It was the work of Alexander Calder.

"La Grande Vitesse"

TSM Grand Rapids
TSM Grand Rapids

The downtown sculpture, called "La Grande Vitesse", was the first public art work funded by the Art in Public Places program of the National Endowment for the Arts. The sculpture was created in Tours, France and then assembled on what is now Calder Plaza in 1969. The sculpture is 43 feet tall, 54 feet long, and 30 feet wide. It weighs in at 42 tons and is painted in Calder's signature bright red paint. The title "La Grande Vitesse" is French for “the great swiftness”, which can also be interpreted to mean "grand rapids".

Calder Rooftop

Calder Rooftop
Photo: Google

Another design by Alexander Calder was painted on the roof of the Kent County Administration Building. This red, black, and white, 127 square foot roof was completed in 1974. The roof can be see from space. It was refurbished in 2016 by Great Lakes Systems.

"Flying Colors of the United States" Airplane

There has also been another piece of art by Alexander Calder on display here in Grand Rapids, but not many people knew about it. It was a model airplane that was painted by Calder. The airplane features the stars and stripes flag waving with Calder's signature on the tail of the plane. The model plane, with a wingspan 74", was done in honor of the United States Bicentennial.

Originally commissioned by Braniff International Airways, the artwork called "Flying Colors of the United States" was recreated on an actual Boeing 727, and was dedicated in November 1975 in Washington, DC, with then First Lady Betty Ford presiding over the ceremony. The artwork was gifted to the city in 1975 after the freshly painted Boeing 727 flew into Grand Rapids two days after it was decicated. (Calder died just a year later.)

For many years, the model airplane was on display on the first floor of City Hall at 300 Monroe Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids. It will now be prominently displayed in the entrance hall at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The new display was unveiled on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2020. Below is a photo of Tory Richardson, president and CEO of Ford Airport, Dan Koorndyk, chair of the Airport Authority board, and Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss standing next to the new display featureing Alexander Calder's "Flying Colors of the United States".

Flying Colors at Ford Airport
Photo: Gerald R Ford International Press Release

Also on display for many years at the airport, is a painted wooden model of "La Grande Vitesse". It was moved to a new location at the airport last September. It is now on the east end of the entrance hall with the "Flying Colors of the United States" display on the other end of the hall.

Who Was Alexander Calder?

Alexander Calder was born in Lawntown, Pennsylvania on July 22nd,1898. He was an American sculptor known for his innovative mobiles, his static "stabiles", and his monumental public sculptures. His work is in permanent collections around the world. According to Wikipedia, his art can be found at "The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, has the largest collection of his artwork Other museum collections include the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC." Alexander Calder passed away on November 11th, 1976 at the age of 78.

Read more about Alexander Calder on the Calder Foundation website.


See What Grand Rapids Looked Like Almost 100 Years Ago

A look back at what the city of Grand Rapids looked like sometime in the 1920s. The pictures come from a film called "Grand Rapids Gateway to the Playground of a Nation and the Furniture Capital of America". The film was used to get businesses and organizations to have their conventions in the city of Grand Rapids, MI.

More From 97.9 WGRD