A few weeks ago, I had lunch with my dear friend John Phifer Marrs. One of the topics we covered was his recent visit to
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. John had such a lovely time there that I asked him to tell me more about his experience at the museum so that we could share it with you. (I’m planning my visit as I type this. Maybe we can carpool?) Here’s what he has to say: Long before it was built, I was certainly aware that Alice Walton was building a museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, from stories here and there in the press and from my visits to other museums where I would find a painting labeled “on loan from Crystal Bridges.” A couple of years ago, I drove around Bentonville trying to find the location without any luck. So I was eagerly awaiting my first visit—and I wan’t disappointed.
A winding road meanders through lovely grounds (actually 120 acres) leading to the museum. The building is nestled in a perfect little tree-covered valley. Pools of water surround the buildings—and of course, there’s the Crystal Spring stream that was original to the site. The building is simple, elegant, modern—and yet it’s built of natural concrete, timber, copper, and stone. Most of the materials are native to Arkansas. The structure floats and soars and blends into the natural beauty of the site. Architect Moshe Safdie certainly nailed the placement of the building. Many of the galleries are actually bridges spanning the water, hence the name Crystal Bridges.
It was a warm winter day on my visit. I was torn between wanting to walk the grounds or enter the museum. The museum won out. Admission is free, thanks to Walmart. The friendly greeters welcomed our group and helped us to figure out what to do first. (Our greeter was actually a gal with whom I went to high school!) What a collection it was! Art was divided into different categories (19th century, wonder world, contemporary) and all put together by Alice Walton quite recently. It helps that she has a rather large purse. I loved After the Last Supper. It’s made of spools of thread—it sounds hokey—but it really wasn’t. But my favorite piece was probably Andy Warhol’s Dolly Parton since I watched her as a kid on The Porter Wagoner Show with Grandmother Phifer. Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter was also great. And Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits is a masterpiece! But I also loved a bizarre self portrait by Evan Penny. It features his head and shoulders—a little larger than life-size—and freakishly lifelike.
After touring all the galleries, we finished up with a lovely dinner at Eleven, the museum restaurant. While there, I ran into famous Dallas architect Richard Drummond Davis! He was also checking out the museum. We had a lovely dinner and watched the sun drop behind the trees and reflect on the water outside the glass walls.
Anyway, being born an Arkansan, I am very proud. This museum will definitely put Bentonville on the map. You should plan your visit. It’s only about five hours from Dallas by car or a 55-minute plane ride.