Museum acquires painting of Grand Rapids in 1830s
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) – Grand Rapids Public Museum has acquired a 19th century painting offering a look at the city at the time of its founding.
It’s also a view of a hill that no longer exists, as seen from an island that’s only a memory today.
Though it was painted in the 1880s, artist Aaron Turner was an early pioneer who already was a teenager here when the village of Grand Rapids was organized in 1838.
The untitled oil painting, well preserved, now is on display at the museum in its Newcomers Exhibition.
“This painting, of great significance to the history of Grand Rapids, is essential to have in the collection of the Grand Rapids Public Museum,” Tom Dilley, chair of the museum’s collections committee, told The Grand Rapids Press. “We are fortunate to have such an early depiction of the city decades prior to the advent of photography.”
The ideated painting of two small cabins on the east bank of the Grand River, overlooking a narrow channel of water with a canoe on the bank, several trees on shore, and Prospect Hill in the distance, offers a view of what today is the heart of downtown Grand Rapids at the time of Turner’s arrival around 1836 when he was 13 years old.
It’s a view looking east from Island No. 1, one of two small islands in the Grand River that no longer exist.
Island No. 1, now occupied by the JW Marriott Hotel and its surroundings, began near the foot of Pearl Street. Turner’s landscape is a view of what today includes Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, McKay Tower and Rosa Parks Circle, as seen from the island.
Pioneer Charles Belknap, who arrived in Grand Rapids in 1854 as a boy, recalled years later that Island No. 1 mostly was a meadow, and cows would wade across the river to feed on its grass. Winds from the west would blow through wild plum and crabapple trees on the islands and carry the fruity scent into the village.
Prospect Hill, some 200 feet beyond the original east bank of the Grand River, began its steep climb at Monroe Center and continued north beyond Lyon Street, peaking some 60 to 70 feet above the water level.
Over time, Pearl and Lyon streets and Ottawa Avenue were cut through the wooded ridge of clay and gravel, and the excavated material was used to fill in the channels between Island Nos. 1 and 2 and the east bank.
By the 1890s, both islands and Prospect Hill had disappeared forever.
Privately owned for over 100 years, the painting was given last year to the Grand Rapids Public Museum by the estate of Harold Garter.
Turner later became a newspaper editor and Grand Rapids’ first city clerk. He designed the City of Grand Rapids Seal that still is in use today.
The colorful landscape is signed in the lower left corner “Renrut” or “Turner” reversed.
Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, http://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids
# # #
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE