by Arnie Fenner
There are many wonderful art museums in the U.S., so many places to stand in front of, to learn about and be inspired by masterful works. The Met. Art Institute of Chicago. The Getty. MFA Boston. The Brandywine. The Whitney. Crystal Bridges...
Wait...uh...what? Crystal Bridges? What's that?
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton and opened November 11, 2011 in Bentonville, Arkansas. Designed by Mosche Sadie, the museum consists of a series of galleries encircling two creek-fed ponds, totaling 217,000 square feet of exhibition and event space. Crystal Bridges is the first major art museum to open in the U.S. since 1974 and, except for special shows, is free to the public.
Cathy and I decided to take a day trip south to visit the museum in late October—it's about a 3 hour drive from Kansas City—just to get away from all of the political brewha filling the airwaves and internet, and were immediately impressed, not only by the state-of-the-art facility and collection, but also by the number of people visiting an art museum on a Fall Sunday morning. Bentonville, though the headquarters for Walmart, is decent-sized (population around 40,000) but is hardly a big city; when the museum was first proposed the estimated attendance was projected to be from 150,000 to 300,000 a year. Instead, Crystal Bridges has attracted something north of 650,000 visitors annually since its opening. I can believe it: we had to park in the satellite parking and walk (through very scenic grounds that include a sculpture garden) to the entrance. There are also free shuttle buses from satellite parking, in case of stormy weather or for those not interested in taking a stroll.
What did we see? Well...
Above: "Cupid and Psyche" by Benjamin West.
Above left: "George Washington" by Charles Wilson Peale. Above right: "George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton portrait)" by Gilbert Stuart.
Above: "War News from Mexico" by Richard Caton Woodville.
Above: "The Indian and the Lilly" by George de Forest Brush.
Above: "The Lantern Bearers" by Maxfield Parrish.
Above: Cathy poses with "Rosie the Riveter" by Norman Rockwell.
Above: "The Bubble" by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth.
Above: Frank Loyd Wright's Bachman-Wilson House. Constantly under threat from flooding in New Jersey, Crystal Bridges purchased the house, had it dismantled, moved, and reconstructed on the museum grounds. Also free to tour, tickets are required to help manage the crowds.
And that's just the tip of the proverbial iceberg: Crystal Bridges features works spanning the history of American Art and includes works I've never seen anywhere else by Robert Henri, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Thomas Hart Benton, George Wesley Bellows, Frederic Remington, Thomas Moran, and the three Wyeths, N.C., Andrew, and Jamie. Currently their special shows are "Women in Art" and "WOW: The Art of American Dance."
Were we knocked out? Absolutely. Afterward we drove a few more miles to Eureka Springs to spend the night in "the most haunted hotel in America." But that's another story.
In talking with Cathy about our excursion during the drive back home I couldn't help but feel that Crystal Bridges, besides being a stunning showcase, is a reminder—for me, if for no one else—that there are many wonderful art opportunities throughout the country, not just on the coasts, and there are plenty very close to home. All we have to do is take the time to look.