Crystal Bridges

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4 Living space to foyer FLW at Crystal Bridges
9 FLW at Crystal Bridges Exterior Back
Aerial view of crystal bridges
Courtyard to crystal bridges, maman bronze stainless steel,
crystal bridges trails
crystal spring trail native stone walkways
Frank Lloyd Wright house

BY M. J. VAN DEVENTER

Oklahomans looking for a great weekend getaway need look no farther than across the southeastern border to Bentonville, Ark. Located in a beautiful wooded setting, travelers will discover the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, nestled amid stunning nature trails.

Opened in 2011, this spectacular museum was the brainchild of Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton, the retail giant who founded Wal-Mart, and his wife Helen. Long a connoisseur of fine art, Alice involved her family and its foundation in the vision and shaping of her longtime dream.

She built her dream on a 120-acre parcel of land, which had been owned by her family. The builder broke ground in 2006. Alice built this unusual museum so people in the region could enjoy the art collection she had acquired through many years. Bentonville residents, and others in the region, quickly embraced Alice’s vision.
Initially, there was some controversy surrounding the building of the museum. Alice was undaunted. She persevered and never wavered like a willow tree. She worked with an internationally-known art historian, John Wilmerding, to collect even more major works of art for the museum.

Her first acquisition was Asher B. Durland’s Kindred Spirits, from the New York Public Library. Some critics called Alice “a vulture,” for snapping up art treasures they perceived would be hidden away in a remote Ozark town.

Crystal Bridges opened November 11, 2011, following a gala event in Bentonville’s town square. By the end of the first year, more than 650,000 people had toured the museum and its magnificently manicured nature trails. According to the museum’s publications, Crystal Bridges is the first new museum dedicated to American art in more than a generation.

The exquisite art collection, which is presented chronologically, spans five centuries of American art, featuring masterpieces from Colonial times through today. Visitors can see how American art has changed significantly from its early beginnings when artists were heavily influenced by European masterpieces.

The collection includes such famous artists as Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase to more well-known modern names as Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell and Ray Lichtenstein. A recent exhibit showcased the pop art of the iconoclastic Andy Warhol.

Architecturally, the museum is a dramatic and awe-inspiring wonder. Situated at the base of a natural ravine, it was designed to be a complement and a counterpoint to the lush landscape. Moshie Safdie, a native of Haifa, Israel, and an award-winning versatile architect, was Alice’s choice to design her dream museum.

Safdie let the environment influence and guide his design plan. The landscape surrounds the rectangular and semi-circular shape of the buildings, giving the impression of giant hard-backed turtles at the first surprising glance.

He also used a complementary mix of materials: poured concrete for the walls, red cedar trim, brushed steel railings, soaring pine beams. It is easy to imagine the arched copper roof of the bridges as geological formations.

Those curved roofs are repeated in the museum’s vast art galleries. Glass walls invite nature inside the museum’s interior and are especially appreciated in the museum’s well-appointed dining room. Those curved walls of the exhibition areas also add a sense of rhythm and movement to the interior environments.

Safdie’s vision was to create structures with elements that would look like the earth itself. And they do, as they mimic the colors of the surrounding land, thus making the dynamic architecture a tribute to the land itself. “Powerful” is the word often used to describe Safdie’s striking architecture for Crystal Bridges.

Equally as compelling are the sculptures that accent the various nature trails throughout the setting. A lifesize stainless steel tree by Roxy Paine titled “Yield” greets visitors near the museum’s entrance and seems to be swaying in the wind.

The Art Trail includes sculptures ~ 19 in all ~ by such notables as Robert Indiana, whose “LOVE” sculpture is a favorite of visitors, a pig named “Stella” by Andre’ Harvey, a “Tortoise and Hare” by Nancy Schon and an imposing mammoth spider named “Maman,” by Louise Bourgeois. Maman, which towers over the museum’s center courtyard, means Mother in French. Visitors with children might want to tell them Maman really can’t bite. The star of the Art Trail is James Turrell’s “The Way of Color.” It reveals the sky through a viewing oculus in a kaleidoscope of ever-changing colors and hues.

There are numerous other trails to be enjoyed on this visit from the orchard, azalea, dogwood or pine trails to the rock ledge and crystal spring sites. In every season, Crystal Bridges presents a panoramic feast of nature views for visitors.

Not to be missed here is a tour of the relocated Frank Lloyd Wright Bachman-Wilson Home, which was built in 1954, along the Millstone River in New Jersey. Crystal Bridges acquired the classic “Usonian” house in 2013. It was one of Wright’s simpler and lower cost homes and was dismantled in New Jersey and reconstructed to perfection ~ piece by piece ~ according to a museum docent. Amazingly, the museum was able to locate a craftsman who worked on the original home to aid in the reconstruction on the museum’s grounds.

The house opened to visitors in 2015. It fits so naturally in the Crystal Bridges environment, as if it has always been located here, overlooking a stream. Timed reservations are required for this fascinating look at a very utilitarian structure by one of the country’s most charismatic and influential architects. Because the two-story home is quite small, only a few visitors are allowed at one time. The upstairs is not on view since the stairs are fragile. It is worth a phone call or an email to reserve your place in line.

From art to nature, a visit here is a visual and sensory feast for the eyes. Thanks to Walmart and Alice Walton’s dream to create a world class regional museum in her hometown, admission is free. A visit here is well worth the ever-changing price of gas for a day or weekend trip to this inspiring locale ~ so close to home in Oklahoma.

For more information and reservations for the Bachman-Wilson House or the dining room, call (479) 418-5700 or CrystalBridges.org. The museum, located at 600 Museum Drive in Bentonville, is closed on Tuesday.

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