Calder stabile undergoes first full makeover

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — First the first time in its 50-year history, La Grande Vitesse, the stabile most refer to simply as The Calder, is getting a full restoration.

Work began on the two-month, $300,000 project Thursday afternoon. For the next two months, scaffolding will surround the 43-foot tall, 42-ton piece of art by Alexander Calder.

It’s an important piece of Grand Rapids history and a project that’s much more than just a job for Bob Cole, president of David Cole Decorators.

“I’ve personally painted this about eight to 10 times,” said Cole, who carried a photo of him helping paint the stabile in 1987.

“We’ve been working on painting the Calder for almost 35 to 40 years,” continued Cole, whose company is also handling the restoration project. “My father got started with it and I just kept it going, taking care of the Calder.”

Twenty layers of Calder Red, the special paint developed for the Calder back in the late 1960s, will be stripped from the stabile. Welds and bolts will be checked. Then it will be primed and painted.

layers of red paint on metal
A courtesy photo shows the layers of paint covering the Calder sculpture in downtown Grand Rapids, which are being stripped as part of a restoration project. (City of Grand Rapids)

“They’re going to bring it right down to the metal and start this thing right over to where it was in 1969 and get another 50 years out of it,” assistant project manager Kyle Johnson said.

In 1969, a concept called urban renewal — projects meant to revitalize blighted areas of cities — was trending across the country. Part of the effort in Grand Rapids led to a new city-county complex on the north end of downtown. And in the plaza outside the complex, the first piece of public art funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts was installed.

Now, Festival of the Arts celebrates the Calder and Grand Rapids’ arts community every June.

“It has long reach on the importance for my generations, previous generation and future generations,” Johnson said.

The stabile repainting is just the start of a larger plan to refresh Calder Plaza. Part of GRForward, the latest effort to revitalize downtown, Calder Plaza is also expected to get a makeover, including the addition of a pavilion, green space and other amenities to make it more friendly to the public.

A concept of the plan was revealed in 2017, but Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the organization in charge of GRForward, has put it in a holding pattern while it evaluates fundraising opportunities. Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer for DGRI, said the evaluation is not necessarily a delay in the effort.

“This is the patient work required to conceive, develop and build signature public spaces,” Guy told 24 Hour News 8.

No matter how long the Calder Plaza redo takes, the centerpiece will be ready.

“It’s amazing what the opportunities are going to be,” Johnson said. “But through and through, this is going to be that anchor, the baseline for everything.”  

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