The year was 1969 in June and a monumental structure was being assembled in Grand Rapids. Any guesses as to what it was?

The Grand Rapids construction company Haven-Busch had the job of putting together a puzzle no one had seen before. It was Alexander Calder's stabile, "La Grande Vitesse."

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Most of us probably don't appreciate the importance of having an Alexander Calder sculpture in our community, or the historical significance.

The sculpture was the first public art work funded by the Art in Public Places program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). It was fabricated in Tours, France and assembled here on the plaza. It is  a steel sculpture, 43 feet tall, 54 feet long, and 30 feet wide, and weighs 42 tons. Just a small thing. And, of course,it is painted in Calder's signature bright red. The title, La Grande Vitesse, is French for “the great swiftness”, which can also be translated as "grand rapids".

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Even though we now love and feel honored to have a "Calder" in our community, people didn't feel that way back in '69. Nancy Mulnix Tweddale along with the wife of former FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman, Sarah "Sally" Seidman, were the driving force in bringing the Calder here to Grand Rapids.

A panel of local officials and nationally recognized art experts were selected to decide on the art piece for the plaza. Calder got the  commission in 1967. After Calder was chosen and residents weren't too keen on the plans. Opponents wrote letters to the editor and created songs and cartoons deriding the sculpture. Advocates used the mayor’s bully pulpit and public service television to call attention to Calder’s credentials and vision.

Back then it cost a whopping $128,000 for the commissioning, fabricating, shipping, and installing the sculpture. Today, that would compute to over $1 Million dollars.

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None the less, La Grande Vitesse was formally dedicated on June 14, 1969, and has since become a popular, beloved and proud symbol of Grand Rapids.


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