Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a museum in Bentonville, Arkansas which has won numerous awards and caught the attention of many well-known celebrities like Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford. It has also hosted Prince Saud bin Khalid Al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia. Rumor has it that Drew Barrymore frequents the museum so often that she even bought a house in the small town of 33,000.
Prestigious awards, famous celebrities, royalty? What’s all the hub-bub about this museum in Arkansas, of all places? For starters, it is no coincidence that Crystal Bridges was built in the same town as the birthplace and headquarters of the largest chain retail store in the world-Wal-Mart. The late Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart and one of the richest men in the world, lived and raised his family in Bentonville, Arkansas. His children grew up romping around the hills and splashing in the springs of their 120 acre Ozark farm in the middle of Bentonville, just a stone’s throw from the Bentonville square, where Sam’s first store was located. Sam’s daughter, Alice Walton, states that as children, she and her siblings thought the land was “magical”. The family holds that land close to their hearts, and according to Alice, their mother, the late Helen Walton, said they were saving the land “for something special”. Well, that “something special” came in the form of Crystal bridges Museum of American Art. The museum is the brainchild of Alice, an admirer of art, who wanted to give the people in her small community the opportunity to experience the best artistic creations our country has to offer. She proposed the idea to her siblings. One month after their mother’s death, the Walton family dedicated their “special” and “magical” 120 acre playground and the future Crystal Bridges Museum to their mother, Helen.
The museum is named for Crystal Spring, the natural spring that runs through the property, and the two signature bridge structures that constitute the heart of the museum. The museum itself is a stunning piece of art, designed by internationally renowned architect, Moshe Safdie.
The museum documents American history and heritage through masterful works of art that exemplify the evolving eras of our country's development. The permanent collection features some of the most well-known pieces of American art in the world, such as Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits, Normal Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter, and Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol. There are also many works by contemporary artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Georgia O’Keeffe. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions from other well respected institutions.
The art doesn’t stop within the walls of the museum, though. Visitors are invited to explore the 120 magical Ozark acres that make up the museum grounds. The grounds feature the Crystal Springs and two natural spring-fed ponds. There are three miles of trails surrounded by tranquil Ozark flora and interspersed with several outdoor sculptures. One of the trails leads visitors to a skyspace structure by James Turrell. Each morning and evening, at sunrise and sunset, the structure called The Way of Color, has a programmed LED light display. Another highlight of the grounds is the Crystal Bridges Overlook, where visitors can sit and rest while enjoying the view of the campus below.
The museum is continually adding to its portfolio. It has recently acquired a Frank Lloyd Wright house, the Bachman Wilson House, which be reassembled on the museum grounds.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is a masterpiece worthy of the attention of royalty and multi-millionaires. Thanks to the Sam Walton family foundation, though, the rest of us have the opportunity to experience what makes this place so “special” and “magical”.