|View of Eleven Restaurant from wing of Crystal Bridges Museum|
Alice L. Walton is the 8th richest person in the United States, having inherited a great deal of Wal-Mart stock from her father, Sam Walton. Divorced, with no children, she splits time between her ranch outside of Ft. Worth, Texas and Bentonville, Arkansas. Most visitors to Bentonville have business with the corporate home office of Wal-Mart - second largest corporation in the world. But with the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum two years ago, Alice Walton wanted to add another purpose to that journey and she succeeded beautifully.
I began hearing of this museum from friends and the press. All wondered how such a first class art museum could land in a town of 38,284 inhabitants. The answer lies with Alice Walton, who used to paint with her mother on childhood camping trips, beginning a life-long love and collection of water color paintings. There’s something about being a multi-billionaire that causes one to consider their legacy. America has been blessed with Carnegie libraries and Rockefeller Foundation grants. Following in this tradition is Walton’s desire to build an accessible art museum featuring American Art. Walton knew museums drew from a 300 mile radius for visitors. If a circle were drawn around each major art center in the U.S., a large blank area existed in northwestern Arkansas and Ms. Walton wanted to change that.
|View of Crystal Bridges Museum from above|
|Sign welcomes visitors to Crystal Bridges Museum|
|Eleven Restaurant at Crystal Bridges Museum|
|Feet of Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell|
As we were leaving, we walked through a gallery with a show of water colors that had just opened that night. These were from Alice Walton’s own collection which will be permanently given to the museum upon her death. Turning to the gallery’s guard, I asked if Ms. Walton had been there that evening for the opening. He said, “Oh, yes. About 6 pm” - the exact time I asked the chef of her.
Plans continue for the site. Our guide announced a recent purchase of a Frank Lloyd Wright home in New Jersey to be dismantled and rebuilt on the grounds. Shows and lectures fill the calendar. Yet the art world buzzes as to whether the museum can become and sustain itself as a big player in America. I can’t contribute to that discussion. But while I missed meeting Ms. Walton, I do know it’s easy to feel her influence and commitment to bringing our country’s art history to those outside the big cities. Paris is 254 miles from Bentonville - just inside that 300 mile circle Alice Walton drew. A four hour drive brings you face to face with America’s art in a stunning setting - not bad for a small town in Arkansas.
|Edward Hopper's Blackwell's Island|
|by Thomas Hart Benton|
|by Andy Warhol|
Crystal Bridges Museum http://crystalbridges.org/