Play time

Mary Gardner Premington created a ’public art playground.’
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Grand Rapids native Mary Gardner Premington created works meant for tactile exploration and play. Courtesy Grand Rapids Public Library

Outdoor art has a long history in Grand Rapids, with a particular bright spot in the 1970s, following the installation of Alexander Calder’s “La Grande Vitesse.” Festival of the Arts participated in the movement by sponsoring a playground sculpture contest. Each year the winning design was produced by Festival and the piece was enjoyed by crowds throughout the weekend. Although most of the winning sculptors were men, the 1974 playground sculpture, “Recreform,” was designed by internationally known artist Mary Gardner Premington. Born in Grand Rapids, she worked out of New York City and Santa Monica. The red, blue and orange metal piece was part of a series of works she created for parks and shopping malls.

After their life at Festival, the playground sculptures were placed around the city, including at Ah-Nab-Awen, Sixth Street, Mulick, John Ball and Riverside parks. Most of the playground sculptures no longer are around, but at least two remain: Lorrie’s Button by Hy Zelkowitz (1976) in Ah-Nab-Awen Park and Kid Katwalk by Joseph Kinnebrew (1975) in Sixth Street Park. Take some time this spring to visit (or revisit) these sculptures and impress your friends with your knowledge of their history.

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