A Museum Bridges the Gaps

I knew he’d be there, waiting.  I’d seen his photo and heard a story or two, so I wasn’t fearful of missing him. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Still, when I turned and saw him at the end of the gallery, I was taken aback, both by his air of patient weariness and by his obvious disregard for the people who’d clustered around him. Edging closer, I listened to their conversation.

“What’s his name?”
“Don’t think he’s got a name.”
“He sure enough looks real. I was about ready to ask him the time.”
“Yeh, and if he’d answered, you’d have been right surprised.”

At Crystal Bridges, it doesn’t take long to become comfortable enough to join in.

“He reminds me of my dad,” I said. “That’s how he’d look when Mom made him go shopping with her.”

After the laughter subsided, one of the women looked at a man I took to be her husband and said,

“That’s right. I’ve seen that look. But the artist ought to have put a woman on that bench, too – for all the times we’ve been dragged off to hardware stores and farm sales.”

Clearly, Rod Bigelow, Executive Director of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, had it right. Asked about his favorite piece in the collection, he said,

“My favorite work of art changes regularly, but today… it’s a Duane Hanson sculpture titled “Man on a Bench”.  It’s literally a depiction of an older gentleman sitting on a bench. I like it because of the way our visitors interact with the sculpture – they’re surprised by it, intrigued, sometimes taken aback in that they think it’s real. It elicits great response, from all ages.”

There’s a lot to interact with at Crystal Bridges, beginning with WalMart heiress Alice Walton. Once she put her energies – and her considerable money – behind her vision of accessible, quality art for the people of Arkansas and surrounding states, the reactions were swift and often predictable.

The  thought of American artistic treasures disappearing into the great void of northwestern Arkansas clearly was more than parts of the art world could bear. Some questioned her methods, while others doubted her taste. Often bidding anonymously, she began influencing the art market, and the so-called “Walton Effect was born.

Ms. Walton acknowledges that dealing with members of the East Coast art establishment hasn’t always been easy. “A lot of people there don’t really know this part of the world, really don’t know the people here and the desire and the need for art. But once they come and see what’s here and what we have, their attitudes will change.”

After my own visit to Crystal Bridges, I have little doubt the attitudes are changing.

Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, Crystal Bridges has been constructed in such a way that a careful balance of art, landscape and structure is maintained. Set down into a ravine fed by Town Branch Creek and Crystal Spring (from which it takes its name), the museum and its natural environment seem perfectly paired.

During construction, a six-foot easement between the actual work site and the surrounding forest helped to preserve the natural environment, and the use of natural materials – copper, pine beams, red cedar trim – link the buildings even more closely to their setting.

Curves are everywhere – in the walls, the roofs, the walkways. The Tallgrass Express may sing of the prairie as a “clean curve of hill against sky”, but the curves of Crystal Bridges are no less clean, no less delightful.

That’s not to say the curves didn’t present a few challenges. “I was concerned that the building might conflict with the art at first — there’s not a straight line in the space,”said curator Kevin Murphy.

But when Murphy and his colleagues began placing a series of landscapes on the long wall of the early 19th century gallery, they found the curve gave a dynamic quality to the linear presentation. “It really helped tell the story [of the landscapes during that period],” Murphy said. “I could have never hung that series on a flat wall.”

Outside the walls of the museum, over three miles of trails curve through the 120 acre  site.  Some, like the Dogwood and Rock Ledge trails, are meant for hiking. Others are hard surfaced and accomodate wheel chairs and bikers as well as walkers.

More than 250,000 native plants or cultivars have been placed into the landscape, like this fading but still lovely native hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens).

At Crystal Bridges, education isn’t limited to classrooms and lectures. Interpretive signs along the paths point out interesting aspects of nature’s art, and invite participation in assorted projects.

The day I visited, groups of schoolchildren were everywhere, enjoying the fruits of Scott Eccleston’s labors. Director of Grounds and Facilities, Eccleston has adopted a landscape design philosophy he calls “Leave no child inside”. In a Crystal Bridges publication, his work is described this way.

“At locations throughout the grounds, he has designed and built creative play areas to encourage children to explore and enjoy the outdoors. Kids can climb on the massive bouders of Robert Tannen’s ‘Grains of Sand’, explore the waters at Cindy Spring, or hop from stump to stump along one of the “stump walks” built along the Dogwood Trail.”

Along the Art Trail, the natural pleasures of Crystal Bridges are joined by whimsical, mysterious and unusual artistic expressions. There’s Stella, André Harvey’s smiling sow…

…one of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures, made famous through the U.S. Postal Service

…a fiberglass vaquero who seemed to validate my choice of traveling music

…and a wonderful bronze bear, aptly titled, Shore Lunch.

I could have spent an entire day outdoors, exploring the grounds and sculptures. But there were paintings to be seen, and I was especially eager to find Asher Brown Durand’s Kindred Spirits.

I became aware of the painting after Alice Walton purchased it from the New York Public Library in 2005.  The private sale, for an estimated $35 million dollars, gave Walton her centerpiece for the Crystal Bridges collection and raised such a furor in New York it reverberated all the way down to Texas.

The painting may have hung in obscurity for years and been consigned in 1986 to life in a room filled with other obscure paintings, but once it was gone, writers vied with one another to describe the horror of its loss. As Francis Morrone put it in the New York Sun, “The library’s sale of Kindred Spirits is, quite frankly, New York’s most egregious act of self-desecration since the demolition of Pennsylvania Station.”  

In an excellent article written for the Ozark Echo, Justin Gage provides a context for the painting itself.  In his introduction, he says,

“Asher B. Durand finished ‘Kindred Spirits’ in March 1849.  It was a memorial to his friend and mentor Thomas Cole, who stands in the landscape with writer and poet William Cullen Bryant
The painting was commissioned following the death of Cole (aged 47) by dry-goods merchant and longtime art patron Jonathan Sturges.  Sturges gave the painting to Bryant, a close friend of Cole (his ‘kindred spirit’) and Durand.  Durand’s work remained in the Bryant family until 1904 when it was donated to the New York Public Library.”

Reflecting on the uproar over this painting – and others – the day before Crystal Bridges’ formal opening, Arkansas resident and Museum member Penny Springmann had this to say.

“Some say Arkansas doesn’t deserve to house such national treasures – the works should be in New York or LA. But America is more than its coastlines. Middle America is filled with millions of people like me who want to celebrate the arts, who want to share masterpieces with their family, and who treasure the opportunity to have a museum like Crystal Bridges.”

Moving through the Crystal Bridges galleries, it seems there are masterpieces and treasures at every turn.

I had no idea Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter was part of the museum’s holdings. I smiled at the “rivets” incorporated into the frame, and wished I’d had the  opportunity to bring my mother, one of the original “Rosies”, to see the painting she loved.

Of course one of my own favorite artists, Thomas Hart Benton, is well represented. In a bit of wonderful coincidence, Bentonville, the home of Crystal Bridges, is  named for the artist’s uncle. The elder Thomas Hart Benton became one of the first United States Senators elected from the state of Missouri.

It was a bit of a surprise to find Louise Nevelson’s Night Zag Wall. I’ve admired Nevelson since first experiencing her work at St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan, and always am pleased to see her represented in a collection.

In her essay on Georgia O’Keeffe, Joan Didion quotes the artist’s reflections on her time in Texas.

“That evening star fascinated me. It was in some way very exciting to me. My sister had a gun, and as we walked she would throw bottles into the air and shoot as many as she could before they hit the ground. I had nothing but to walk into nowhere and the wide sunset space with the star. Ten watercolors were made from that star.”

I find it curious that Crystal Bridges has in its holdings an O’Keeffe watercolor titled Evening Star No. 11. It’s possible the paintings weren’t numbered sequentially, or that one was added to the series later. In any event, I found this quite earth-bound O’Keeffe painting equally appealing.

Even a relatively smaller museum like Crystal Bridges can tire the feet and overwhelm the senses. In a gesture of generosity, Reflection Rooms outfitted with comfortable sofas and chairs, an abundance of books and lovely views of the museum grounds have been placed among the galleries. Anyone can make themselves at home to read, jot notes or simply relax before moving on.

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell nature from art. This isn’t an impressionist painting, but a view from one of the Reflection Room windows.

And this isn’t the delightful slipper-wearing lady who settled in next to me with her book, but Mary Cassatt’s lovely painting, The Reader.

One fear expressed during the development of Crystal Bridges was that it would turn out to be “all white bread” – mediocre, bland and tasteless. It seems the fears were ill-founded.

Beethoven’s Trumpet (With Ear) Opus # 132 Reverse is a large-scale work pointing to the paradoxical nature of communication.  A sculptural sound piece about a deaf composer, the work is silent until the viewer speaks into the trumpet. At that point, a selection of Beethoven’s work is heard.

I still was pondering the appearance of the piece when a gallery guide came scooting over. “Where are you from?” she asked. I told her, and she dragged me over to the ear trumpet’s opening. “This nice lady came here from Houston,” she intoned into Beethoven’s ear. Obligingly, the strains of his music began, and we both laughed.

Earlier, two women standing with a museum guide in front of Stanton Macdonald-Wright’s Au Café (Synchromy) were doing some laughing of their own. “I don’t see a thing except colors,” said one. “Good!” said the guide. “This artist loved color, and he loved to arrange blocks of color. Can you see the woman’s green hair?” 

Silence.  And then, “Yes! And I see her ear! And she’s wearing a hat!”

While they delved further into Au Café, I pondered its resemblance to Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No.2), part of the 1913 Armory Show in New York. That painting caused its own kind of stir, and Au Café, painted in 1918, clearly was influenced by the same modernist forces shaping Duchamp’s work. 

As for Nick Cave, whose vibrant Sound Suit was chosen to adorn billboards promoting Crystal Bridges’ opening, I found his work funny, stimulating, unbelievably appealing and strangely familiar. After watching this video, I knew where I’d seen such things in the past. Liberian bush devils and Nick Cave’s Sound Suits have a good bit in common.

My own current favorite at Crystal Bridges is this nearly-fifty-foot stainless steel sculpture by Roxy Paine.

Because the work was commissioned especially for Crystal Bridges, I can’t help pondering its title – Yield. Perhaps it’s a sly commentary on Alice Walton’s determination to wrest away what she can of great American art for the people of the Heartland. Perhaps it expresses a hope that the people of Arkansas and those who join them at their museum will yield to the power of art.

In any event, like the museum for which it was created, Yield is a satisfying combination of art, nature and structure, a reminder that yielding to the pleasures and power of art often brings a rich yield of benefits.

As I was leaving the museum grounds, a pair of young boys on bicycles wheeled in and stowed them in a nearby rack. They were moving pretty quickly, and I couldn’t help saying, “Late for class?”  They grinned, and then one of them, freckle-faced and flushed, said, “Oh, no ma’am. We’ve just come over to visit our museum before supper, and we’ve only got an hour.”

“Our museum”? Alice Walton should be proud.

Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. No reblogging, please. Thanks!

108 thoughts on “A Museum Bridges the Gaps

  1. Hi Linda:

    After savoring your narrative and indescribable photographs, it’s pretty difficult to express my thoughts, but had to leave a comment.

    Only one word, Linda. Bellísimo!

    Thank you,


    1. Omar,

      That’s a very good word to describe the museum itself. It occurs to me that the Twisters would have a wonderful time there. Of course every museum has events and possibilities for children, but the wonderful natural setting at Crystal Bridges makes it even more child-friendly.

      Of course, I found the atmosphere friendly and open, myself. That’s part of what made it so enjoyable.

      And I should have mentioned that admission is free, thanks to a substantial grant from WalMart. That’s what makes it possible for kids – or the lady I met in the Reflection Room – to come every day if they want. It’s just wonderful.


    1. Martha,

      You never know. My mom never imagined a trip to Liberia, either, but after Dad retired, they planned a trip to Arizona. One day, he came strolling into the kitchen and said, “You know, as long as we’re going all the way to Arizona, we might as well go to Africa and see Linda.”
      And so it was.

      Mom took great pride in the work she did in the War, and enjoyed it, too. You can read just a bit about her affection for Rosie here . If the museum had been there while we still were traveling back and forth to Kansas City, there’s no question a detour would have been made. I can only imagine how happy she would have been to see the actual painting.


  2. Did you notice the wrinkled flesh on the forearms of the Man on a Bench? I can ask that question because I saw the sculpture just five days ago, when we took a long weekend and spent three nights in Bentonville. Friday night and Saturday were devoted to Crystal Bridges, with that second day beginning on the grounds before the museum opened in the morning. Although we were a bit past the peak of fall color in northwestern Arkansas, I still found plenty of bright foliage to photograph on the museum’s property (and elsewhere).

    As for “Kindred Spirits,” which was one of my father’s favorites, I’ll proclaim myself a part of the small group of people who have seen the painting hanging in the New York Public Library and in Crystal Bridges.

    1. Steve,

      Ah – suspicions confirmed. When you mentioned on your blog that you’d been driving across Oklahoma, I was certain you’d been visiting the museum. It’s certainly a great place for a photographer.

      I did notice the Man on a Bench’s forearms, and other wonderful details. What’s confused me is finding three different images of the fellow online, with differences in such things as the position of the paper sack. I’m wondering if there’s more than one man, or if he’s flexible enough to be moved into different poses. A call to the museum may be in order if I can’t find the answer online. Is this how he appeared when you were there?

      I’ve really enjoyed learning about “Kindred Spirits”. I’ve known almost nothing about the Hudson River School, and while I’m familiar with Bryant, Cole was new to me. It tickles me that you’ve seen in it both places, and I’m glad that now I’ve seen it in one.


      1. I remember that in the one semester of art appreciation that all of us had to take in college, I wrote a paper comparing a painting by Cole called “The Oxbow”


        to a sculpted torso by Aristide Maillol (I no longer recall which one). The two were in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I could see them both on a single visit (which in those days was free).

        1. All it took was reading “oxbow” for me to remember that I have been introduced to Cole – by you. Remember the unidentified stalk you posted last year? It’s funny that I could remember your photo but not the artist.

          After my memory was refreshed, I thought for a minute about the interpretation offered at the beginning of the Wiki page – that the painting represented the conflict between wilderness and civilization. That’s not so different from the conflict that began on the prairies once the open range was abolished and fencing began.

          1. I had a nagging feeling that I’d already mentioned Cole’s “The Oxbow,” and now you’ve confirmed it. And you’re right about the conflict between wilderness and civilization on the prairies; unfortunately, more than 99% of the prairies lost the battle.

  3. Your guided tour was excellent. What a brilliant collection of works. And, the setting is beautiful. The museum has hit its mark as evidenced by the two young boys at the end. Priceless.

    Thank you very much.

    1. Jim,

      The hardest part of putting this post together was deciding which works to include. The museum’s permanent exhibition is arranged chronologically, from Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington at one end to Andy Warhol’s portrait of Dolly Parton at the other.

      In between? There were plenty of my favorites that I was tempted to include – Hopper, Winslow Homer, Rothko – not to mention a few new ones. Susan Catherine Waters’ Portrait of a Girl and her Dog just cracked me up. But it’s a big museum, and a small blog post, so limits were in order.

      I forgot to mention in the post that general admission is free. That’s what makes it possible for people like those boys to just drop in and to begin developing that sense of comfortable familiarity. That’s priceless, too.


  4. Linda, you’ve done it again — taken me on a fascinating journey to parts unknown and coaxed me to learn something new at the same time!

    The first sculpture, the one of the man on the bench, reminds me of countless gentlemen I’ve seen patiently waiting in malls for their wives to finish shopping. He looks so lifelike! Beethoven’s ear and his music that comes forth when one speaks into the trumpet is such a clever piece. I imagine the schoolchildren as well as the adults love that one!

    The views inside and out are beautiful. I guess Ms. Walton figured that if she was going to have a museum, she might as well go all out. Good for her (good for Middle America, too!)

    Thank you for an excellent guided tour — I’ve been through Arkansas, but never stayed very long. Because of your post I now have a reason to go back and linger!

    1. Debbie,

      It was parts unknown for me, too. I remember one trip through the state with Mom when we decided to take a different route home from Kansas City, but otherwise Arkansas has been a bit of a blank slate. I discovered some real delights apart from the museum on this trip and enjoyed it tremendously.

      One of the delights of Crystal Bridges was watching the interaction of people with the more modern pieces. One I decided to edit out at the last minute was Nam June Paik’s “John Cage Robot II” .
      You can read more about it and its installation here .

      When I stopped to ponder it, a small group of men were looking at it. One said, “Yeh. And even with all those televisions, I’ll bet there’s still nothing worth watching.” That may have been the funniest thing I heard my whole trip.

      One of the things I most love about the grounds is preservation of its native flowers and shrubs. This isn’t a place where the grounds crew rolls in to pull out the pansy beds jand substitute begonias. It’s an Arkansas museum, and the grounds are all Arkansas – naturally.


  5. I love “Yield’ and the ending encounter and the phrase “leave no children inside.” Each seems to speak an important truth: the reach for the sky, the sense of communal ownership of art, and our place in nature.

    Maybe these three come together in some way or another in a well constructed gallery/museum: open to the nature, to community, and to transcendence. Sounds like a must see. Thanks for this! Allen

    1. Allen,

      That sense of openness was one of the distinct qualities of Crystal Bridges.They must have terrific security around the place, but I never saw it or felt it. The staff in the galleries seemed more like guides than guards, and none of them had the stiff, disapproving and unapproachable mien of some of the “museum attendants” I’ve met.

      Beyond that, think of the remarkable freedom those boys had. They were on their own, riding their bikes. They had made their own choice to come to the museum, and because there’s no admission fee they were free to come for an hour before supper.

      It was like going back in time half a century and more, to my own childhood. We also roamed as we pleased – as long as our homework was done and we were home for supper and bedtime.

      Today, I do wonder where those boys went. It’s not impossible that, rather than looking at paintings, they went to the free library or the Experience Art Studio, where materials for creating art are available.
      Whatever their choice, they were there, and they clearly were happy about it.


  6. A curved building always get the tick from me Linda, and the materials used in this one show great consideration on how it fits its environment. Something not put together by a committee!
    You’ve given me a lovely tour, and if I did ever get to that part of world, it would definitely be on my list to see.
    It reminded me a bit of Mona – a place I really want to visit before I die.

    1. eremophila,

      I’d not heard of MONA. I just had a browse through their site and found myself chuckling at more than a few things. “Irreverent” is a quality I much admire, especially when it’s well done. And I can see why you’d want to visit.

      I didn’t dare try to get into the architectural decisions and details of Crystal Bridges. There’s too much I don’t understand. I did spent a couple of hours browsing professional architectural websites where the museum’s construction was evaluated and critiques offered. There was much concern over incorporating “live” water into the plan, for example. Figuring out how to protect everything during floods was quite an issue.

      The other detail I love is that they kept two huge tulip trees, making a cut-out in the building to allow them to stay where they were. Since they’re perched rather precariously on the edge of a ridge, they’ve been named Thelma and Louise.


  7. Hi Linda.

    Thanks for this amazing tour of a wonderful place. I love that this great art is accessible to people living far away from cultural epicentres. And those outside sculptures! (Especially the pig.). How wonderful. Such food for the soul.

    1. Tandi,

      It was almost as good as your ice castle art exhibit!

      The outside art trail has far more attractions – bronzes of a rabbit, a tortoise, and so on, and a James Turrell installation called “Skyspace: The Way of Color”. It’s not the Northern Lights, but it’s apparently quite an experience. I missed it this time, but there will be another opportunity.

      I absolutely loved the mix of people at the museum. I had my snootiness detector running at full tilt, and it didn’t detect even one whiff.


  8. This was a GREAT tour of a really beautiful museum and it’s surrounding gardens….i loved seeing some photo’s of the permanent collection—and I think it is WONDERFUL that Arkansas has such a very terrific Museum….When you mentioned “White Bread”, I wondered if any African American Artists are included in the collection…..I will Google to see if I can find that out. Thanks so very much for this glorious post, my dear.

    1. OldOldLady of the Hills,

      It is beautiful. The buildings are compelling, and the fact that the art is all American and arranged chronologically is really quite interesting. At one point I felt as though I was in the National Portrait Gallery – later, when I found Andy Warhol’s portrait of Dolly Parton, it was such fun to imagine her in the National Portrait Gallery, too!

      I had to smile at your question about African Americans. One of the artists I included here – Nick Cave, creator of the Sound Suits – is African American. Not only is his work represented in the museum’s collection, one of his Sound Suits was selected as “The Image” to be used with promotional materials for the museum opening – including billboards.

      To be frank, I didn’t know he was Black until I began research for this post.I knew I Iiked his work, that it seemed vibrant, creative and interesting, and that was the reason I included him here. From what I’ve read of Ms. Walton, Museum President Don Bacigalupi and others responsible for building the collection, there will be as broad a representation of American artists as possible.

      If you’ve not yet clicked on this interview with Cave, it’s really quite wonderful!

      And here’s a sortable database of the museum’s holdings. It’s not complete, and it isn’t formally associated with the museum, but you might find it interesting and helpful.


  9. I didn’t mean to stay up so late but I couldn’t stop reading. I’ve wanted to go see the museum and now thanks to you, I feel as if I know it quite well. Moshe Safdie’s design seems to make exceptional use of the magnificent setting (love the photo through the window).

    After taking your tour my favorite piece of art is the Duane Hanson sculpture “Man on a Bench”.

    I love the story of the two young boys at the end.

    1. Rosie,

      I thought of you as soon as I walked into the Museum Store. Here’s a bit about the architect and the construction. And the store has a green roof! How cool is that?

      I thought of you another time, when I came across a John Singer Sargent painting I hadn’t seen – Capri Girl on a Rooftop. The model was Rosina Ferrara, whose own life was quite interesting. You can read about her here.

      If you ever decide to come to mid-America, maybe we could have our gelato in Bentonville after a nice day at the museum.

      It’s so good to see you – I imagine you off doing wonderful things, like dancing the tarantella on a rooftop!


      1. oh gosh Linda, I wish I could say “I have been dancing the tarantella on a rooftop!” …. however I can say I’ve done a lot of barefoot dancing on the beach.

        One of the part timers at our museum store now works in that museum store. Nice to know its got a green roof. We were in San Francisco a few weeks ago and were impressed with the green roof at the Academy of Sciences. I thought it was wonderful to see Poppies on the roof.
        I need to plan a road trip to Texas and Arkansas… Mr F is an architect and I know he’d love to see the museum. Thanks for the links. I’m going to check them out now …

  10. Build it, and they will come. How wonderful. That first night photo of the museum reminds me of ancient Egyptian jewelry. It looks like something Cleopatra would wear.

    I have a vision of kids climbing over and jumping from the giant numbered boulders of Robert Tannen’s “Grains of Sand”.

    And may I say that, much like large print, the need for “Reflection Rooms” in large facilities is not lost on me.

    1. Bella Rum,

      It does look Egyptian, now that you mention it. And in the daytime I think they look like turtles basking in the sun. The copper has begun to burnish, and it’s just gorgeous.

      I think your imagination’s pretty accurate. I had a wonderful photo of a girl (8) and her two brothers (4 and 10) astride Stella, the pig. Their parents said I could take the photo, and it was wonderful, but I ended up deleting it. After all, you’re really not supposed to climb on the bronze statues, and I wouldn’t want to encourage anyone’s tendencies in that direction

      The video you found and the photos I linked of “Yield” being installed are a good reminder that art isn’t always delicate, especially where sculpture is involved. Mr. Tannen reminds me of the elder Mr. Ghirardi hovering around while his Compton Oak was being moved here in League City. It must be so satisfying to see such projects completed successfully.

      The woman I chatted with in the Reflection Room actually lives in Bentonville. She comes over to the museum one day a week. She finds a different painting or sculpture, pays attention to it for a while, then finds herself a chair and some books about the artist. She puts on her slippers, pulls out her glasses and notebook, and learns a bit more about art.

      They even have large print books. Now, that’s a museum!


        1. Here’s the official word from a brochure I brought home: “Please do not touch or climb on the sculpture. Sculptures can get very hot in the sun, and climbing can scratch them.” Quite reasonable, and yet I’m sure many find those sculptures nearly irresistible.

  11. Linda- Thanks for such a wonderful tour of this museum. Hope to someday make it there. I loved the ending of your essay with the two boys on bikes proclaiming the museum as their own.

    What a great and wondrous gift this museum has been to that region.


    1. Gary,

      There apparently have been plenty of nay-sayers, but that seems to have faded away since the museum actually opened. The pride in what it offers is palpable. There’s the art and setting, of course, but the educational opportunities, the changing civic identity, the establishment of Bentonville as a “destination” – all those are good.

      In my reading, I found one person who described Alice Walton as “a girl who likes to buy stuff while riding her horse”. So be it. She buys good stuff, and even better, she shares it – in a pretty classy way.


    1. becca,

      Don’t make the mistake I made and schedule only one day. You’ll need two, at least. I was constrained a bit by circumstances – for one thing, I didn’t realize I was trying to visit during the High Holy Days of Craft Fairs, and the closest room I could book was in Ft. Smith. That was fine, but if I’d been in Bentonville itself I would have had more time. And, I needed to move on the Kansas City. Had it not been for the family visit, I would have stayed longer.

      You’d enjoy it immensely!


  12. What a beautiful and great place, I wished to visit there too. Wonderful photographs, notes, stories, you are amazing. Thank you for sharing with us, you took me too in this amazing world. Have a nice weekend, love, nia

    1. nia,

      You would just love Nick Cave’s “Sound Suits”. The one I saw was covered over with sequins, doilies, embroidered bits, lace, buttons. It looked like my grandmother’s sewing box and button box, all sewn onto one garment. I was glad to learn he has people who help him create these wonders – his fingers would be very sore, otherwise.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed seeing the museum. I hope to go back in spring, and show you some of the flowers that bloom there.


  13. Oh, good. Linda has written a post to be savored as the morning begins.

    If I had unlimited money one of the things I would do is travel around to museums and libraries.This one did cause quite an uproar. We’ve followed the acquisitions and watched parts of the construction. Finally people proclaimed this site is something all should visit – for the landscape (they brought in and arrange the rocks/boulders!) to the unusual building to the art.

    Am so eager to see it all done – your post is the next best thing. It’s just gorgeous – all of it. How nice someone was able to pull this all together and did so.
    Thanks for sharing – great tour!

    1. phil,

      Speaking of savoring this or that, I really should mention that Crystal Bridges has some pretty good food, too. You can see the menu from their restaurant, Eleven, linked here. I had wondered about the name, until I realized that the museum opened on November 11, 2011.

      Beyond that, the restaurant’s no burger-and-fries joint. There are vegan and gluten-free offerings, and opportunities to, as the menu says, “Engage your kids with delicious, healthful food that is both fun and educational.” Friday nights cater to families especially, promoting dinner followed by gallery visiting.

      It’s another reminder that the educational thrust of the museum isn’t overtly didactic. Story-telling, with food or gallery arrangement, is paramount. And, as an extra plus – look at the list of local farms, dairies, bakeries and such that help supply the museum’s kitchens.

      Intentionality’s a wonderful thing. Everything seems to have been thought through, right down to the “Ecoboxes” – outdoor audio devices that play informative bits about artworks, native plants, birds and so on. How are they powered? Hand cranks!

      Gosh. If I keep going on, I’m going to want to head right back. Actually, I do want to go back.


  14. Linda, I loved armchair traveling to this remarkable museum. I’d never heard of it. I am so in favor of free admission to museums, which encourages frequent visits. You don’t feel that you have to see everything in one go around, and you can spend more time with one or two pieces of art. This one seems valued by its community as well as far-flung visitors. Wonderful to see.

    1. Rosemary,

      The woman I mentioned in my response to Bella Rum, above, is a perfect example of someone who’s worked frequent visits into her routine. This is what I said:

      “The woman I chatted with in the Reflection Room actually lives in Bentonville. She comes over to the museum one day a week. She finds a different painting or sculpture, pays attention to it for a while, then finds herself a chair and some books about the artist. She puts on her slippers, pulls out her glasses and notebook, and learns a bit more about art. ”

      As for being valued by the community, that expresses itself in a variety of ways. I chatted for a minute or two with the gallery guide who hollered into Beethoven’s ear for me. She was from Bentonville, and loves her job. As she put it, the thought that she was getting to work in such a place, helping people appreciate what she called “her gallery” was nearly unbelievable.

      Not only is admission free, so is the Library. The collection includes roughly 60,000 items, although not all are shelved. There’s an open stack art reference section, and a closed stack for rare items. There are reading areas, computers, free wi-fi, and so on. Researchers or students can scan materials and save them to a USB device.

      Access to the collections is available through the OCLC, which you know, and the catalogue’s available online through the above link.

      And yes – sketching with pencils or colored pencils is allowed.


  15. What a great commentary on the museum. In the museum photo, it looks like there is grass growing on two of the roofs. Optical illusion? And I appreciate the “cleanness” of the entire place.

    The view from the window does indeed look like a painting, and brings to mind the phrase, “pretty as a picture”; however, why in the world would anyone think a picture is prettier than the genuine article? We humans are funny like that . . . with our photos and art work. I know it’s a way to capture the beauty for as long as the medium lasts. It’s like we know things are ever changing, and we must capture them as they are before they go away.

    And last thing I want to say is about Kindred Spirits and New York’s attitude AFTER it was sold . . . . . you never appreciate some things until they are gone!!! Perfect example of the old adage. Beautifully educational piece, Linda.

    1. Bayou Woman,

      You’ve got sharp eyes. That is grass, growing on the roof of the Museum Store and atop the curved corridor I showed in my photo just below.

      Your question made me wonder if it will sprout wildflowers in spring. Look at this, from “Arkansas Online” :

      “The roof of the museum store will be used to grow a variety of plants, such as grass, flowers, vegetables or indigenous greenery.”

      So that answers that!

      In the end, I think there’s a reciprocal relationship between art and nature. Nature may come first, and inspire artistic endeavors, but art helps us to see nature in a new way. Being Little Miss Both/And, I’ll happily accept them both for what they are – inspiration and interpretation. But of course you’re right that we often use art to try and hold on to experience. Posts like this are a way of sharing experience with you, but they’re also a way for me to “keep” it for myself.

      Funny. When I first heard about the hand-wringing over the sale of “Kindred Spirits”, that same adage came to mind, although in musical form.


      1. Oh my gosh, Linda, the EXACT same song came to my mind, although it was Joni Mitchell I heard in my mind singing “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone . . . “

        1. That’s who I heard in my mind, too – but I liked CC’s video, and thought a new version would be good. Maybe it’s all that exposure to contemporary art what’s done it to me.

  16. What a feast! Nature, art and stylish, environment-supportive architecture: the fact that youngsters clearly enjoy the beauty and fun of this vibrant place was for me one of the most heartening aspects of this wonderfully descriptive post. Wish I were near enough to visit! Many thanks, Linda.

    1. Anne,

      Feast is the word. I had to leave so much out of the post itself. See my comment to philosophermouseofthehedge for some information about the restaurant, and to Rosemary Washington about the library. There’s so much good about the place beyond what’s hanging on the walls. Not only do the youngsters enjoy it, the museum helps to turn even us into youngsters again!

      It’s proof positive that the very qualities Kelvin Meadow and the Children’s Wood promote are not only important, but can be achieved. Crystal Bridges isn’t perfect, perhaps – but it’s very, very good. And it doesn’t simply provide nature and art experiences for children who happen to show up. There’s an outreach program that provides field trips for school children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to come to the museum. It’s just great.

      I wish you could visit, too. I’d be happy to be your guide!


  17. I’m of several minds about this. First, I love your tour, and your last anecdote is perfect.

    I just wish art museums weren’t so often the province of the very rich–and with the quotient of vanity inevitably attached–but were valued and promoted throughout the country as a public good. I think of the Neue Galerie in NYC, a gorgeous museum, but wholly private, and of course the admission fee just goes up and up. But one example among many.

    I think there is a question of curation, too. The Barnes Museum, now in Philadelphia (controversy over that move, too, I suspect you’re aware), comes to mind there. He did have a teaching purpose, but there is a lot of not so great art there, and I’m not at all sure there’s any need to keep this art mausoleum (not a typo) intact.

    But, thinking, by analogy, of the undervaluing and lack of availability of trains in so many places in the country, I suppose we have to be appreciative that, at least in some areas, like art, rich private citizens pick up some of the slack.

    1. Susan,

      I smiled at your use of “mausoleum”. That word points directly to the difference I experienced at Crystal Bridges. “Open”, “inviting”, “accessible” and “friendly” aren’t always the words I’d use to describe museums I’ve visited. Even those who profess those values and clearly attempt to incorporate them don’t always succeed, or succeed only partially.

      And despite the huge stash of cash underpinning the project called Crystal Bridges, “province of the very rich” is the last way I’d describe it. For one thing, a good bit of the cash is being used to make the museum available – in a number of ways. Not only is general admission free, there’s the free library, the free Experience Art Studio for both children and adults (get your inner Warhol on!), free wifi, free tours and events, and so on.

      Beyond that, over 28,000 school kids have been able to make field trips to the museum at no cost. Writing in Huffpo in September, museum President Don Bacigalupi notes:

      “More than 28,000 schoolchildren from all around the region have toured Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, since it opened less than two years ago. Schoolchildren are able to take a field trip to the museum at no cost, thanks to a generous endowment from the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, which reimburses schools for out-of-pocket expenses such as buses and substitute teachers, and even provides a healthy lunch for all participants.”

      Private funds, put to good public use.

      Honestly, I wish you could have spent the day with me. There were sights that were, shall we say, unexpected, and it absolutely was a mixed crowd. There were as many down vests and Kansas City Chiefs jackets as blazers, and as much polyester as linen and silk. After two years, the curiosity factor probably has simmered down, at least for the locals. But they’re still coming, and they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t feel comfortable.


      1. You make the case beautifully, not only in your comment, but in your gorgeous post. In a cyber sort of way, you did bring us there to spend the day with you, and it was a wonderful day, no question! I’m glad the museum has this welcoming approach and delighted to know about the response. That’s so important, and so rare. I just can’t help but wish we weren’t so dependent upon a few wealthy people to make this sort of thing happen, you know?

        1. I do know. And so, with my tongue only slightly tucked into my cheek, I offer this solution: We need more wealthy people, and more generosity!

          On the other hand, if Crystal Bridges is a huge success, enlightened self-interest might lead some others who aren’t so naturally generous to follow in Alice Walton’s path. If nothing else, she’s shaken things up a bit, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  18. The architecture of Crystal Bridges is very striking. They seem to have quite an eclectic mix of time periods and artists. I have to laugh about the ear trumpet that plays Beethoven.

    I had to look up the (alas, late) Duane Hanson to see more about him. He’s not the one I was thinking he was. (That other one, Ron Mueck, does larger than life hyperrealistic people) Are the clothes sculpted, too?

    Georgia O’Keefe is a personal favorite. My dad attended a church conference at Ghost Ranch in the early 1960’s (Abiquiu, NM) and they saw her out painting. People used to poo-poo Norman Rockwell, and say he was “just an illustrator,” but his works are timeless. Beautiful art in a beautiful building in a beautiful setting. What more could you want?

    1. WOL,

      I may have answered my own question about “Man on a Bench” because of your curiosity. I had assumed the clothes were sculpted, but became curious myself when I found slight differences among photos online. The formal description is “polyvinyl, oil, mixed media and accessories”. The clothing and paper bag may well be those “accessories”. If I’d read the information posted next to the sculpture I would know, I’m sure. But, I was too busy yacking with the other people there to read the interpretive sign.

      There was a Rockwell exhibit at the museum some time ago that drew quite a crowd – more than at many other museums where it was shown. In the process of reading about that, I came across a hilarious letter urging Alice Walton to buy some more Rockwell, darn it! It begins:

      “Dear Ms. Alice:

      “Please consider buying the Norman Rockwell paintings up for auction at Sotheby’s on Dec. 4th…”

      You can read the entire piece here .

      You’re right about beautiful art, beautiful building and beautiful setting. And when you catch a glimpse of someone really looking at art, that’s beautiful, too.


  19. What a fascinating museum, and what a fascinating guided tour you give us. Thank you so much for beautifully taking me along on your tour of the museum and the grounds. I wish that I could see in person the Rockwell painting of Rosie the Riveter! Such an iconic painting of a trailblazer for the changing role of women in the work force.

    As usual, you did a great writing job beautifully illustrated with your photos.


    1. Maria,

      There’s so much you would have enjoyed, and so much more than I was able to show here – beautiful still life florals, particularly. There were some intriguing pieces, too, like Joseph Paul Vorst’s “After the Flood (c.1940). It reminded me immediately of one of Thomas Hart Benton’s pieces, his 1951 “Flood Disaster” .

      Usually, “if it’s not one thing, it’s another” is a complaint, but at the museum, it seemed to be a pretty good descriptor for a wonderful experience. Everywhere I turned there was another delight, both inside and out. I’m really glad you enjoyed my poor attempt to convey the experience.

      And how nice to see that Mimi gave you a moment to come by and visit! I have another painting for the two of you, but I need to find a decent image of it – I’ll bring it by your other spot.


    1. The Bug,

      It’s well worth it. I’m sure I sound like some shill for the Bentonville Chamber of Commerce or part of the museum marketing team, but it really was that wonderful. You’d love it.


  20. Oh, gosh! Crystal Bridges is a breathtaking place and it sounds like SO much fun. Not stiff and stodgy, like so many art museums are.

    It has taken me three days to get around to posting. I kept getting sidelined by your links. I’d come back to finish up and there’d be more comments and more links!

    I sure wish we had something like that around here, where you could wander in and out, at will, whenever you had a little free time. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that I’d probably go in and never come out.

    Sadly, none of our museums have access to the type of funding that CB does and they all have to charge admission. Us locals find them a bit too expensive to visit frequently, especially as a family. I’ve heard some life long residents say they’ve never gone at all, due to parking woes and admission costs.

    The folks of Bentonville are very lucky.

    1. Gué,

      If stiff and stodgy is one end of the continuum, Crystal Bridges is the other. There was a registration process when I first arrived, but that involved no more than sharing my zip code (of course they want to know where people are coming from), getting a map and having a couple of questions answered. It was quick, friendly and painless.

      One of the beauties of Crystal Bridges is that it’s so close to the center of town, and I’ve thought a time or two about the ways in which “small is beautiful” helps to make it such an enjoyable experience. The parking is free, and nicely integrated into the site. The Reflection Rooms provide some respite for visitors who need a rest. The mix of people and the approachability of the gallery attendants adds to the small-town feel. It’s nice.

      I have the same problelm with our Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. There’s free admission on Thursdays, but there are days when I just can’t bring myself to make the drive into town, go through the parking hassle and then trudge to the museum. It takes a minimum of an hour and a half to do all that, which means three hours of the day is given to just getting there and home. When I lived inside the Loop I went much more often. Now, it’s special exhibitions for the most part.

      Of course, Bentonville’s a bit more of a drive than into downtown Houston, but I must say that it’s much more pleasant. There’s no question that it’s on my route the next time I go up to visit my aunt, and it may be a destination of its own in the spring. I want to see wildflowers growing on that gift shop roof!


  21. I think the man on the bench may be feeding pigeons, Linda… but without much passion. His hand is in the bag and he is looking down at the ground. I can agree on the Liberian Bush Devil. The only one I met looked like a walking haystack. Favorite… maybe the pig, it touches my sense of humor.

    And yes, the people of Bentonville are lucky. And hats off to Alice Walton. I will be sure to drop by the museum next time I make it to Arkansas.


    1. Curt,

      Pigeon-feeding’s good and equally plausible. Still, I can’t help thinking that paper sack contains a three-pack of sandy beige panty hose and that little white blouse that finally was priced below ten dollars after a MONTH of waiting for them to drop the price!

      As for humor – I really should have included my other photo of the bear. As I walked along the path, the first thing I saw was its rear end sticking up in the air. From that angle, you can’t tell for the world what it is. Only after I walked around to the other side did I “get it”.

      It’s only occurred to me since writing this that in her own way Alice Walton is as much an artist as those whose work is included in the museum. The place is the fulfillment of one woman’s vision – even though, as with artists like Nick Cave, hundreds of people were involved in bringing it to fruition. Bentonville is lucky that she’s generous and far-sighted rather than grasping and petty.


      1. The best justification for extreme wealth I have ever seen is giving back to the community… maybe the only justification, Linda. :)

        Sorry you didn’t get the bear’s butt. That is definitely a Curt kind of photo. Peggy is forever accusing me of focusing in on those types of photo ops. I can never resist. I could easily do a blog on animal behinds.

        Laughing out loud at your description of what was in the bag. I concede!


  22. That’s a beautiful building. Inside and out.

    I don’t go to art museums very often unless it’s for something very specific that I just have to see.. I really should pay more attention and seek out the museums here and enjoy. Thanks for reminding me.

    1. Martha,

      I suspect you’re in a wonderful place for enjoying art. Now that I’ve had such a wonderful museum experience, I may begin making more of an effort myself even though, as I mentioned to Gué, the thought of a round trip to Houston isn’t too pleasant.

      Crystal Bridges was a good reminder that smaller, regional or city museums can be entertaining and enlightening, too. Even some of the smallest historical museums on my trip were fascinating, and they’re usually staffed with the same knowledgeable, friendly people as Crystal Bridges.


  23. Linda, your descriptions and pictorial make me want to go there! You made me teary eyed with your comment about your mother and Rosie the Riveter. I have often thought such things when confronted with something I know my mother or father would have appreciated. It is always such a poignant moment isn’t it?

    I love those native hydrangeas and was delighted to find that I had some growing along our side of the Rock Creek! Did you know that the leaves get some amazing fall color? It is a wild mix of maroon and rust! Your photograph of the dried flowers is stunning!

    1. Lynda,

      It is poignant, isn’t it? My dad loved to travel, and I often think about him when I’m traveling, wishing I could share this or that with him. I still have moments in the grocery store, too. Something will catch my eye, or be on sale, and I’ll think, “I need to pick some of that for Mom.” Uh – not so much.

      I didn’t realize there were native hydrangeas until Crystal Bridges. I was surprised to see them, because they’ve made it part of their mission to highlight native plants. A little research did the trick, and I learned a good bit in the process. I didn’t know about their leaves turning, either. When I was in Arkansas, the color was just beginning to appear. I didn’t find any nice color until I neared Kansas City, and then west into Kansas.

      You’re going to share photos of your hydrangeas, right? I suspect you’ll have discoveries galore once you get to your place full-time and have the luxury of just poking about.

      Thanks for the compliment on the photo, by the way. As you said on your blog, little by little.


      1. Yes. Tulips make me think of Bob’s mother. His dad used to get them for her every spring! He was a great romantic at heart and she loved him for it.

        And this is out of left field, though with the same effect, the combination of car grease and cigarette smoke or saw dust will conjure up my dad. He was always working on something out in the garage. When he died I inherited a lot of his shop tools, etc. It took me a full year to figure out why I got so melancholy every time I went out to the garage to do laundry. Then, on a hot day in summer it hit me. It smelled like dad.

        And yes, I will share… I have a few pictures lined up. I am a big fan of native gardening!

        1. Proustian memory – what a marvel. Remember this wonderful bit from “Remembrance of Things Past”?

          “But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

          You can find the entire passage here

          In years past, the perfume marketers took a page from Proust’s book with the question, “Will Windsong Whisper Your Name?” I found the perfume cloying, but after decades I still remember the marketing campaign. My goodness.

          I’m looking forward to the photos!

          1. Ahahaha! Your mention of perfume reminds me of Tigress, which reminds me of my eccentric Aunt Irene (mom called her Auntie Mame). She bathed in the stuff because she had lost her sense of smell and she remembered how much she liked it before her life changing olfactory event.

            Thank you for sharing the Proust, it is a perfect passage for the experience we are sharing. I hate to admit this, but I am more well read in children’s literature than I am in Proust… Perhaps this winter “I need to get [me] to the [library]…

            Another reason to get out of the house!

  24. I love those little boys! If it’s “our museum” now, I just hope it will continue to be (with their support!) when they grow up!

    This was a fabulous piece, Linda. I first heard about this museum here, on CBS Sunday Morning.

    I thought “I need to see this place someday” — it is what a museum should be. Active and interactive, representing all kinds of art and doing it with the grace, elegance and artistic design vision that the art within deserves.

    I’ve never been a Wal-Mart fan, but I can feel a little bit better knowing that some of this empire has gone into a museum for the people. Your photos are just fabulous — I love every piece you showed for very different ways. And of course, your research and stories bring it home to everything personal and real. Bravo!

    1. jeanie,

      I really enjoyed the video. Two things struck me. One was Ms. Walton saying that her family always felt you should “keep your feet on the ground and your nose out of the air”. That’s not a bad description of the atmosphere at Crystal Bridges. And, two years down the road, her assumption that Crystal Bridges would speak for itself, and speak well, has been justified.

      As she suggests in the video, there are people willing to judge the museum through the lens of their opposition to WalMart’s business practices, just as there are people who remain convinced that rubes and hicks in Arkansas couldn’t possibly appreciate artistic masterpieces – or even pretty good art, for that matter. Clearly, Alice Walton knew better.

      After listening to her, it seems to me that her own childhood experiences played into the museum’s huge emphasis on outreach to children. Now, she’s transformed a part of her childhood world into something magical for the children of today – and years to come.

      I do hope you get to visit soon. Now that you’re retired, it should be more possible!


  25. Wow! What a beautiful museum! All elements from the architecture, the art, and the grounds are wonderful….very earthy and not at all cold and intimidating as some places are. A place easy to want to stop in and soak in the harmony and the history like the two boys at the end of the story.

    My favourite is “Kindred Spirits”..love the backstory and the friendship depicted. If I were a painter, that is a style I like…the grandeur of nature on display. Though I do like the sinuous curves of O’Keefe’s work so much as well!!

    1. Judy,

      I looked in a catalogue of the museum’s holdings to see if they had anything by Audubon. According to the list, which was compiled by a “friend of the museum” and isn’t at all official, they don’t.

      I wondered if Audubon’s French/American background had counted against his inclusion, and decided not. There are works in the museum by others with ties to other countries. Joseph Paul Vorst, who moved here from Germany in 1930, has some wonderful work showing. He was a friend of Thomas Hart Benton and worked for the WPA. Some of his post office murals still are around. It may simply be that Audubon remains on the “wish list”.

      In any event, if some Audubon pops up in the future, that would make things even more perfect for you.

      You’d fall in love with James Turrell’s “Sky Space”, I suspect. It’s at the end of the Art Trail, and is one of the things I missed. I’m fascinated by the concept. Here’s a good peek at what it’s about.

      At a Community College event last year, Ms. Walton said, “The goal for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is not to transform Bentonville, or Northwest Arkansas, or even America. It’s to transform the world.” It seems she has a good start.


  26. After reading your last post, Linda, I bookmarked this gallery, and now after seeing it in more depth here, I really must include it somehow in a future travel plan.

    A wonderfully put together post, with very interesting links, which I’ve followed and read/listened to with great interest.

    1. Andrew,

      It’s your kind of place, for sure. In a fit of curiosity, I went exploring to see what exhibits might be coming up in 2014, and there’s a dandy beginning next September. It’s called “State of the Art”, and you can read about it here .

      Of course, any visit would be a good visit. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and the links. With this post and the previous one, the comments section served well as a way to “flesh out” things that simply coldn’t be fit into the body of the post. I fear I could ramble on about this museum for some time, as it is.

      Always so nice to see you!


  27. Linda,

    This is such a rich post on a wonderful museum, I don’t even know where to start. But of course, it’s your words and photos that are more important here.

    Thanks for sharing this marvelous find of your trip with us. I’ve enjoyed all your commentaries on these selective exhibits you’ve chosen to write about, and thanks for all the links, I as a Canuck hibernating north of the 49th parallel got to know a bit about this museum of American Art. And one thing I found out from your links, it’s designed by Moshe Safdie. That one I know… he’s one of our own. ;)

    1. Arti,

      I’ve been on pins and needles waiting for you to discover that I “found” Safdie. It really was quite amazing – I knew his name before I got there, but little more. When I saw the museum, especially all of those curves, it put me in mind of Frank Gehry and the Art Gallery of Ontario. The museums really are quite different, and yet… Perhaps it is that Canadian heritage that I sensed!

      Another Gehry museum is open now on the Mississippi Gulf Coast – the Orh-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi. It houses the work of George Ohr, the famed “Mad Potter of Biloxi” – I’m anxious to get there, too.

      It’s my fantasy to have a meet-up of all of us at Crystal Bridges – you, Jeanie, Oh, the others. What fun that would be. We’d even be willing to sing “O, Canada” for the occasion!


  28. What surprises you found – “Rosie the Riveter” and Stuart’s George Washington! This narrative makes me want to take a road trip to Arkansas with GS1 and grandpa to see what we might find. You showed us so much. Thank you for the peek. Now I want to see “Kindred Spirits”. What a wonderful title!

    I had to smile here with “I found his work funny, stimulating, unbelievably appealing and strangely familiar.” Familiar indeed. I immediately thought of your cactus. I couldn’t help but see Godot or Godette all decked out for the holidays.

    1. Georgette,

      If you make a road trip with GS1 (maybe Grandpa would be interested, too!) you might want to head up to McAlester, OK and then turn right. Near the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, in Heavener, OK, there’s a wonderful Runestone in a setting not unlike Middle Earth. I’ll be writing about that, too. It proves the Vikings were in Oklahoma. Well, or it doesn’t, depending.

      One of the show stoppers for me was a c. 1940 painting called “After the Flood” by John Paul Vorst. It reminded me immediately of Thomas Hart Benton’s “Flood Disaster”, painted ten years later. It’s amazing how similar their work is – at least in terms of vitality and strength.

      Oh, wouldn’t Godot look marvelous all dressed up like that? It won’t happen this year, I’m afraid. Godot is no more. From what the cactus people tell me, he simply came to the end of his allotted span. Lace cactus can easily live 20-25 years in “captivity”, but he was well over 30 years old. Not only that, they usually grow to be 3-5″ tall. He had achieved 14″!

      I thought perhaps he’d been overwatered while I was gone, but no. When I took him for an autopsy at Maas nursery, he wasn’t rotting or mushy. He just had slowly shriveled up inside, leaned over and was gone.

      Sigh. I really did grieve that cactus, but my, don’t we have lovely photos to remember him by? Godette’s doing just fine. I suspect she’s happy to have the place to herself, actually. ;)


  29. It’s funny this museum reminds me of some places I’ve been to in rural France…they also take their culture seriously, no matter where it is. So you get stunningly bold modern buildings in ‘backwater’ regions. (the only difference being that the state pays!)

    I think it’s a fantastic project and looks amazing. All those curves, yum. The art is fascinating, however I think I am slightly more entranced by the reflection rooms – given that within an hour of being in a gallery I’m thinking about where to get a cup of tea ;) But I am taken with the idea of a gentle breather in between looking. Cheaper too!

    The sculpture is intriguing. I like the fact that it is a scene from everyday…history in the making, literally.

    Nick Cave is brilliant…I Let Love In is one of my favourite songs…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYaRpBAvESg

    Thanks for the tour Linda.

    1. thinkingcowgirl,

      Ha! You thought you’d finally found something Crystal Bridges couldn’t provide. Well, you’d be wrong. Here’s the link to Coffee at Eleven , the coffee bar paired with the wonderful restaurant called Eleven. (The museum opened on November 11, 2011.) Coffee at Eleven does have tea, so you’ll be happy.

      As to Nick Cave – you actually were ahead of me on that one. I didn’t know Nick Cave the artist OR Nick Cave the musician when I began all this. I became mightily confused when I began searching for information on Nick Cave the artist and kept getting YouTube videos of a singing group. It just wasn’t making sense. Finally, I figured it out.

      Keep an eye out – he’s had shows and exhibits all over, including Denmark. He may show up in London some day. There just was a spead in Vogue. Clearly, I’ve been way behind the curve on this one.

      Here’s a wonderful little clip of his herd of horses at Grand Central Terminal.
      They’re so cool as exhibits, but even better when they move – as they’re meant to.


  30. Much as I enjoy museums anywhere my attention span is limited.
    When I found I was spending time in the Cairo Museum reading the English description of a four thousand year old sculpture (and not actually looking at the piece) I had to wander out to have a coffee.
    This design seems to account for “time out”.

    1. Ken,

      It does allow opportunity for taking a break. Even better, the materials available in the library and the Reflection Rooms mean that, if you’ve seen something you’re really interested in, you probably can find some related material. Seeing a piece, then reading about it, then seeing it again is a pretty satisfying way to “do” a museum. My tolerance for long lines and an hour’s wait to see something famous for a few minutes is a lot lower than it used to be.

      On the other hand, smaller museums with well-curated collections – like Crystal Bridges – can be a delight. And the next time I travel to Kansas, I fully intend to take in the barbed wire museum.


      1. We called that stuff “Bob Wire”.
        I am guessing that Fritz, the guy that showed me how to help string the wire, didn’t get a degree in English but he could run any machine and fix it.
        I’m going to open a museum in my shop.
        I’ll just call it “Clutter Museum” – plumbing pipe samples from lead and cast iron through breakthroughs to ABS, PVC and Poly Butylene and finally back to good old copper.

        1. Just don’t let them know you’ve got copper in there, or you may have midnight visitors. They’re tearing up churches, hospitals and who knows what to get to the copper down here. Now and then, it goes pretty wrong, and they find out who was doing it.

          I could have used Fritz on my trip, to remind me not to back into that bob-whar. Now I’ve got a new pair of work pants. I’ll have to remember to take them with me on my next vacation to the country.

  31. Linda, I knew this was going to be a post full of riches and wanted make sure I had time to savor your words. Things are a bit hectic here, but I’ve finally managed to sit and savor :-)

    You always make me wish I were beside you on your adventures, talking over our observations, breathing in the excitement of discoveries. My current VP worked for Walmart for many years (still has a home in Bentonville, actually), so I get snippets of the Walton influence on the business side. He mentioned how relaxed the museum felt with its expanse of outdoor space. And knowing that it’s free, local visitors never feel rushed or that they aren’t getting their money’s worth by staying only a half hour. I’m impressed with Alice Walton’s tenacity and wonder how much of the resistance to her efforts she expected.

    1. nikkipolani,

      From what I’ve read and the interviews I’ve seen, it seems as though Ms. Walton was well-prepared both for snarkiness regarding her use of her wealth and prejudices about the ability of the “flyover people” to appreciate art. On the other hand, I think she was both surprised and hurt by the vehemence of some attacks, particularly from the “art establishment”. But, she had a vision, and the means to bring it to life.

      I didn’t make pilgrimage to the original Walton variety store – it looks exactly like the old Kresge’s Five and Dime in my home town. Sam Walton had his own vision and tenacity. As I heard someone say, thank goodness Alice was her father’s daughter – once she got started, there was no question the museum was going to happen.

      One of the things I didn’t really explore is the network of paths that connect the museum grounds to the larger community. For a place that feels as though it’s in wilderness, it’s actually only a mile or so from the center of town. That makes it much easier for people to get there, too.

      My drive was a bit longer, but I’ll certainly be going back. My aunt in Kansas City may get an extra visit or two next year.


  32. Well. Where do I begin? After a brief shining afternoon with you roaming through Crystal Bridges Museum, I simply need to sit quietly and absorb.

    Having curated our own art gallery/museum for many years, I felt a certain amount of envy seeing the amazing collection Alice Walton has been fortunate to obtain. Your descriptions, photos, etc. were inspiring, and I learned much that I knew and much that was new to me. The O’Keeffe watercolor puzzles me: the photo-realism doesn’t look at all like Georgia O’Keeffe style, and if you look at her “Evening Star” series in oil, they are quite abstract. I tried to find it online with no luck. See what you can find.

    I hope someday I will be able to see Crystal Bridges for myself.

    Have a Happy Thanksgiving Linda. I have a horde of family arriving this week! Kayti

    1. Kayti,

      It’s cold and raining and I’ve been snooping around, trying to figure out the O’Keeffe piece. As it turns out, “Feather and Brown Leaf” is oil on canvas. Between 1935 and 1941, she did a number of feather studies, include “A Man From the Desert”, “White Feather” and this “Turkey Feathers in an Indian Pot” (1941). There was another feather in an Indian pot done in 1935 – all of them were in oils.

      Her first summer in Taos was 1929, and 1934 her first summer at Ghost Ranch. It looks to me like these were some of her first explorations of the world she was moving into. They certainly are wonderful.

      When I saw the Evening Star series, I was so surprised. Not at all what I expected, but a wonderful reminder that an artist doesn’t have to do the same thing, all the time.

      Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. It’s so hard for me to believe it’s here already – although the weather certainly is helping put a holiday feel into the air!


    1. Isn’t that wonderful? I linked to a different, Huffington Post article about the study in my comment above to Susan. The article was written by Don Bacigalupi, and is a nice complement to the one you linked.

      I just happened to read today of the struggles they’re having with Common Core in New York. One of the consequences of forcing adoption of that particular program is that funds and time previously available for art, music and such are disappearing. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Arkansas and Crystal Bridges ended up on the forefront of the battle to preserve such things in the schools?

      1. By the way, I read in a newspaper yesterday that one of the things the Common Core eliminates is cursive writing. According to the article, some elementary school teachers (I don’t know what percent) want to keep on teaching cursive.

        1. Now and then I bump into Common Core, either in news articles or blogs. I generally end up feeling as though my head is going to explode. There are days I’m convinced the educational establishment has as a primary goal the dumbing-down of America.

          A side note re: those teachers who want to keep teaching cursive. One of my cousins is a mechanical engineer who’s spent some time teaching high school math. He wasn’t allowed to ban calculators in his classroom, which was his preference. Eventually, he started an after-school, non-credit, non-compulsory class in use of the slide rule. The kids who attended had such fun his next year’s class demanded the same opportunity.

  33. I had some misgivings about the way the study was done, so I wrote the following to the three authors of the Times article:

    Having visited the Crystal Bridges Museum for the first time only a few weeks ago, I took particular interest in “Art Makes You Smart” in the New York Times on November 13. While there’s an appeal in the idea that visiting an art museum can stimulate students enough to cause improved performance in “a range of desirable outcomes,” especially those not specifically related to art, like “tolerance” and “historical empathy,” I’m not convinced that the study described in the article made a sufficient case. In particular, how do we know that it was the works of art that led to improved student outcomes, rather than the excitement of a field trip, the chance to get away from a routine day at school, and the special attention lavished on the students? Would a trip to a museum not of art but of science or history have led to similar improvements? What about a visit to an aquarium or a zoo? What about a day spent in one or more nature preserves in the Ozarks, preferably at the peak of fall color? And even further removed from a “cultural” destination, what about a field trip to a professional sports event, especially if students got to meet some of the players?

    It seems that in addition to the two groups in the study—those students who went to the art museum and those who didn’t—there should have been at least one other control group of students who were let out of school to go on some other type of stimulating field trip. The inclusion in the study of any destination of the types I’ve mentioned might differentiate art from other things. Any such non-art destination could well be a first-time experience for poor students, and might therefore also lead to the reported greater improvements among them than among more-affluent students.

    One of the authors, Jay Green, sent me the following reply:

    Thanks for your note. If you don’t mind, I’m going to reproduce below my response to a previous email from another person wondering whether bus rides caused the outcomes we observed. I think my response to him also addresses your question.


    You raise an excellent point to which we’ve given some thought. We’ve wondered whether a field trip to view a football stadium, for example, would produce similar benefits and in fact are designing a new experiment to test that possibility.

    But we have some good reasons for thinking that the outcomes we observed are caused by a culturally enriching field trip and not just any kind of trip. First, almost all students in the study go on school field trips each year. If they did not win the lottery to visit the art museum, they would have gone on whatever field trip schools in the area normally attend — these include trips to an amusement park, movie theater, bowling alley, etc… So, the vast majority of the control group went on a bus ride somewhere. The treatment group differed in that those students went on a bus ride to an art museum.

    Second, when school groups go on enriching field trips somewhere other than the new art museum, they often visit the Walton Arts Center to see live musical, drama, and dance performances. We conducted a supplemental study to see if trips to the Walton Arts Center produced benefits similar to those observed from visiting the Crystal Bridges art museum. They did. Seehttp://educationnext.org/supplemental-study-long-term-benefits-of-field-trips-to-the-walton-arts-center/ . This suggests that culturally enriching field trips produce the benefits we’ve observed, not just any bus ride.

    It is certainly possible that visiting the zoo, a science museum, or some other cultural institution also could produce similar benefits, but Northwest Arkansas is currently lacking in those institutions. All we can say with confidence is that students who won the lottery to visit Crystal Bridges experienced benefits that students who lost the lottery did not receive. And as we acknowledge, “Further research is needed to determine what exactly about the museum-going experience determines the strength of the outcomes.”

    1. Very interesting, Steve. I confess I didn’t give much thought to the study itself, but I did wonder if there were plans to do follow-ups with the same groups of students. Enthusiasm after a new experience is common, but maintaining that enthusiasm is something else. I would think that “historical empathy” and such could ebb after time, as well.

      I’d like to see a study that compares “field-trip children”, whose only exposure to the arts comes through field trips to museums, theaters, and such, with those who have regular access, such as my bicycle-boys. I’d be interested in what kind of reinforcement is taking place in the classroom after such trips, too.

      On my last visit to Nash Prairie, Susan had some interesting things to say about field trips. I’d assumed the schools were regularly providing trips to the prairie, but they’re not. Issues of liability play into the situation, as well as the inability of some schools to cross county lines to get to Nash. (This may be a district decision, as I’m sure other schools cross county lines. One of the groups at Crystal Bridges when I was there was from Missouri.)

      It’s a shame field trips generally are becoming less common. I still remember our second-grade fall trip. (We had three field trips each school year, K-6.) We went to a dairy farm, “helped” to milk cows, and then came back to school and churned butter by shaking cream in Mason jars. We ate the butter we’d made on saltines, with milk as a chaser.

      I’ll not bore you, but I just made a list of the field trips I remember. It’s pretty amazing – the state Capitol, a factory, a radio station, a historical museum. There’s no question such things belong in schools.

  34. I’ve tried and failed to visit this museum in three road trips south in the last few years. I promise that this post and my own determination to stop the procrastination will get me into this wonderland in August! Wow – even better than I’d read about and imagined before.

    1. I tried to arrange things to get back up there in June. There was a Chihuly exhibit, with his pieces shown both in the gardens and the galleries. I just couldn’t work it out. But even without such a special exhibit, it’s worth a special trip. It was one of the most approachable museums I’ve ever been in. The entire experience was memorable, right down to the attitude of the staff. You’ll love it.

      1. I remember you were hoping to get to the Chihuly exhibit. I was going to get there in May with my parents while we were in Little Rock, but they just got too tired to keep up the driving and schlepping things into hotels. I’ll have plenty more chances!

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