HISTORY

ART STORIES

John Ball Statue
HISTORY

John Ball Statue

The bronze depiction of John Ball was based on a design by local artist Gertrude Van Houten. Gertrude was a cartoonist for the local newspaper where she was known to many fans as “Gert”. Italian sculptor, Pompeo Coppini, was commissioned to execute the design. Coppini was awarded Italy’s Commendatore of the Crown of Italy for his contribution to the field of art in 1931. His studio in San Antonio is now a museum for his work. The statue was installed in the park in 1925. The sculpture is listed in the National Register of Outdoor Sculpture.

The sculpture depicts John Ball with two young children. Actually his son, Waldo, posed for the statue with two of John Ball’s grandchildren. The young girl in the statue is Virginia Ball. Virginia attended a celebration here on the anniversary of John Ball’s 200th birthday. She told a wonderful story about sitting for the artist. She asked him to give her curly hair in the statue. When you visit, you’ll notice he did carve a curl into her otherwise bone straight hair.

Millions of people have sat in John Ball’s lap and have photographs of their families there year after year. Be sure to take your own photos there and share them with us!

Yellow And Teal Butterfly
HISTORY

Concrete Bear

The concrete bear at the Zoo gate was created in 1953 as part of a new entry for the Zoo. The work was designed and executed by Grand Rapids City workers-Mark DeVries, Rut Manis, and Fred See. No one remembers why a bear was selected to be placed at the front entrance. We think it might have been a tribute to one of the first animals at the Zoo, ‘Ol Jack, the bear.

HISTORY

Gnu Rhythm and Blues

Lori Hough created this piece as part of a summer promotion at the Zoo called, “Rhythms of the Wild”. Each artist was given a plastic drum to create an interpretation of animal drumming. Lori’s interpretation was humorous and a favorite with visitors. Many small hands have played out many rhythms of the wild on her fantastical drum.

 

HISTORY

Bronze Bear

Dedicated in 2002, this is a bronze cast of the concrete bear at the Zoo Entrance. The piece is in memory of Sandy Brown, a Zoo Society employee. A relative of Mrs. Brown’s had worked on the original entry bear. Due to her fondness for it the family decided to do the bronze version in her honor. Lori Hough, known for her papier mache sculptures, created the mold for the bronze version.

HISTORY

American Eagle

As you leave the waterfowl area and approach the Bald Eagles, you will notice a dramatic modern sculpture titled “American Eagle”. The artist who created this piece is Marshall M. Fredericks and the statue was donated to the Zoo in 1995 by the Meijer Foundation. A winner of many important awards, Fredericks exhibited his work throughout the United States and abroad. Many of his sculptures are in national, civic and private collections. He was considered one of the most prominent sculptors in Michigan. Fred Meijer collected many of Mr. Frederick’s sculptures, more of them can be seen at the Frederick Meijer Garden and Sculpture Park.

HISTORY

The Sundial

The Sundial statue was originally located in Sundial Park, Grand Rapids smallest park located at College and Cherry. However, it was vandalized several times and even badly damaged. At the request of Katherine Whinery, who was related to the original donor, it was moved to John Ball Zoo. The statue which is cast iron was given to the city in 1925 by Katherine Aldrich Blake in honor of her father, Moses Aldrich. Mr. Aldrich had been mayor of Grand Rapids in 1870. The sundial still works and you can tell time by it. Just remember it doesn’t shift for daylight savings.

HISTORY

Mom, Dad, and the Kids

A family of penguins graces the banks of the Michigan Stream in the central zoo plaza. This sculpture was done by Shirley Thompson Smith, sculptor known best for her representations of ethnic women. Later in her career, however, she experimented with wildlife in her work. This lovable grouping of penguins was donated by the Meijer Foundation in 1995.

HISTORY

Far Shores

On the exterior of the Living Shores Aquarium is a triptych of 6’ x 10’ carved and painted wooden panels. This piece was done in 1998 by Earl Stringer. Earl Stringer is a local artist and theatrical designer. The panels were commissioned to represent the three habitats in the aquarium—Michigan, Patagonia, and the Pacific Northwest. Each of the areas is represented through the use of motifs of the regions’ native peoples.

HISTORY

Sculptural Pieces at South American Exhibit

The originals of all of these were created hundreds of years ago from stone and plaster. The re-creations done in the South American exhibit by local artists, Earl Stringer and Susan Hinkle, are made of polystyrene.

The archway entering the viewing for the maned wolves is a carving based on the “Gateway God” from the Gateway of the Sun at Tiahuanaco in the Bolivian Andes. The original is about 1500 years old and his rayed headdress suggests that he is a representation of the sun god.

The Colossal Head sculpture is typical of huge stone heads found guarding ancient temples throughout Central and South America. The Island Figure is based on a sculpture found in excavations of a ruined building in Tiahuanaco. It is of a powerful creator god called Veracocha. The Hillside Warrior is a stylized figure based on one of 150 stone carvings unearthed near the town of San Augustin in Columbia. So far, there is no other record of the culture that produced these mysterious sculptures.

HISTORY

The Skunk

The bronze skunk located in the Children’s Zoo next to the petting corral was commissioned in memory of Bob Christian, a zoo volunteer.  Mr. Christian spent much of his time taking animals to schools and his favorite was the skunk. This piece was done in 1996 by Sharon Sommers. Ms. Sommers is a nationally recognized artist. Much of her work is based on wildlife.

HISTORY

The Giving Tree

This carved bench was also an Art Prize entry and was donated to the Zoo by its artist, Erica Yob. The bench is based on Shel Silverstein’s famous book called The Giving Tree.

HISTORY

Nessie

Nessie was one of the top ten winners in the first Art Prize competition. It’s location for that event was the Grand River. After the competition was over, Bea Idema purchased it as a gift to John Ball Park. The piece is made of polystyrene. The artist crew that created it was Richard App, Thomas Birks, and Joachim Jensen.

HISTORY

The Griffons

One of the last gifts Kay Whinery gave us was a pair of 15th century stone griffons that had guarded her family home since her father had brought them from Europe in the early part of the century. At the time we had no appropriate spot for them so they were crated and stored. Her gift made us think that we needed a place in the Zoo to keep our history and the memories of so many good friends alive. We decided to plan a Welcome Garden to honor our past and celebrate our future. In 2012 DTE Energy Foundation helped us build that area located between the front entrance and the Idema Funicular. The griffons now have a home.

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Great Lakes Rare Turtles

Great Lakes Conservation
About

Turtles are in trouble around the world and locally. The Great Lakes Rare Turtle Program addresses on threats that are existential and widespread for Blanding’s, Spotted, Wood, and Box Turtles. The John Ball Zoo is working wth partners to study head starting as a conservation tool, protecting nesting habitat for Wood Turtles from raccoons, and researching the distribution and status of Spotted Turtles in Southwest Michigan. The zoo partners with local community scientists to indentify road crossings that pose a threat to Blanding’s and other species of turtles.

Partners

Poweshiek Skipperling

Oarisma powesheik

Facts
Habitat

Grassland, Wetlands (inland)

Threat Range

Critically Endangered

Region

Extant (resident) - Canada (Manitoba); United States (Wisconsin, Michigan), Possibly Extinct - United States (South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa), Extinct - United States (Indiana, Illinois)

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Mitchell's Satyr

Great Lakes Conservation
About

The prairie fens of southern Michigan are a stronghold for the Endangered Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly. We are working with Michigan State University, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Natural Features Inventory, and the Kalamazoo Nature Center to develp to propagate this rare butterfly. Offspring reared in the program may be used to supplement wild Mitchell’s Satyr populations.

Partners

Freshwater Mussels

Great Lakes Conservation
About

Freshwater Mussels are one of the most fastenating groups of animals. Unfortunately they are also one of the most imperiled groups on animals with more than 70% of North American species listed as Threatened or Endangered. Our own Grand River is home to an impressive 32 different species, 19 of which are listed. The John Ball Zoo is working with scientists at Grand Valley State University to evaluate Grand River Mussel populations. During the 2023 field season, the team documented over 1,000 individuals from 27 different species. This includes the Endangered Snuffbox Mussel.

Partners

Habitat Hero

Community Science
About

The Habitat Hero program is focused on creating better urban pollinator habitat by giving away native plants to west Michigan community members. By giving away native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, we are inviting community members to provide crucial nectar sources for pollinators as well as become more involved in pollinator conservation in their own yards and gardens.

Partners

Kestrel Nest Box Monitoring

Community Science
About

American Kestrels are one of North America’s most abundant raptors, but their populations have been steadily declining since the mid 1960’s. This year we have begun participating in the American Kestrel Partnership, run by the Peregrine Fund, to monitor local kestrel nest boxes and help better understand Kestrel population trends and biology.

Partners

Grand River Sucker Monitoring

Community Science
About

Suckers are a very important, and often overlooked, group of migratory fish that inhabit the Grand River. Every spring they migrate upriver from Lake Michigan to spawn in tributaries of the Grand River. We are joining a project started by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to determine how changes in temperature and flow of the streams impact the spawning behavior of the suckers.

Partners

Turtle Road Mortality Surveys

Community Science
About

One of the major threats to turtle populations is mortality associated with roads and vehicles. We have a team of trained volunteers who survey predetermined road crossing sites and report the number of turtles they find at these locations. We plan to use the data to assist in conservation decision-making regarding roads and turtles in west Michigan.

Partners

Michigan Butterfly Network

Community Science
About

As part of our pollinator conservation work, we want to understand how native butterfly populations are changing over time. By training community members to use the Michigan Butterfly Network monitoring protocol, we are offering passionate people the opportunity to help contribute to our understanding of butterfly populations in west Michigan.

Partners

Bat Surveys

Community Science
About

West Michigan is home to several species of rare and threatened species of bats. This summer we will have a group of volunteers collecting bat occurrence data by driving predetermined routes and using special recorders and software to identify bat species. The data will be submitted to the North American Bat Monitoring Project as part of their ongoing analysis of bat abundance and occupancy across North America.

Partners

Massasauga Rattlesnake

Great Lakes Conservation
About

The Massasauga is Michigan’s only venomous snake and plays an important role in the ecosystem. Unfortunately, these snakes are declining in numbers and are listed as Threatened. The John Ball Zoo helps to educate the public on the plight of the Massasauga and helps conservation biologists study them in the field. Currently, we are assisting Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, Grand Valley State University, and Sarett Nature Center develop new technologies to monitor this secretive snake species.

Partners

City Nature Challenge

Community Science
About

The City Nature Challenge is one of the world’s largest annual community science events. Started by iNaturalist in 2016 as a friendly competition between the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, this bioblitz has grown into a global phenomenon with over 500 cities participating. Taking place over the last weekend in April each year, the City Nature Challenge is all about getting outside and documenting the biodiversity in and around our communities while building and strengthening relationships with other people who are passionate about conserving local species. The West Michigan City Nature Challenge is Michigan’s only City Nature Challenge event, and encompasses Allegan, Barry, Kent and Ottawa Counties. We are excited to partner with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and many other local organizations to engage our communities in four days of exploring our biodiverse outdoor spaces.

Partners

Michigan Area

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Freshwater Mussels

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Habitat Hero

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Kestrel Nest Box Monitoring

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Grand River Sucker Monitoring

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Turtle Road Mortality Surveys

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Michigan Butterfly Network

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Bat Surveys

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Massasauga Rattlesnake

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City Nature Challenge

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Get Involved!