When not one, not two, not three, but four separate people recommend that you visit an attraction, you better believe we’re going to follow that advice. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is not a place that was on our radar. Prior to coming to Arkansas, we had never heard of it. And I’d be willing to bet we’re not the only ones. But when our friend Jill raved about it, and then two people emailed us suggesting we visit, and then fellow Aristreamers Liz and David who came to see us at Petit Jean SP said it was fantastic, we knew we had to go there.
Since it was only kind of, sort of on our way to our next stop in Missouri we made plans for a Friday afternoon detour. It actually worked out really well since we ended up leaving Petit Jean a day early in an effort to escape our water logged campsite. A single night at a small city park on the Arkansas River put us only about an hour and a half from the Crystal Bridges Museum. After checking out at noon and spending the rest of the work day in their scenic boat launch parking lot, we made the short drive and arrived at the Museum around five. Since they’re open until 9 on Fridays that left us plenty of time to explore.
We easily found a spot for the Airstream in their parking lot and set off to see some art.
Crystal Bridges Museum was founded by Alice Walton – yes from the same Walton family that created Walmart. Which seems fitting since the town where it’s located, Bentonville, is the home of Walmart and features the Walmart headquarters, a ridiculous amount of Walmart stores, and even a Walmart museum. The museum was opened in 2011 and showcases five centuries of American Art from the colonial era to the current day. The building itself is also amazing.
It was designed by architect Moshe Safdie and features a series of connected galleries with a central pond in the middle and a stream that flows through the outdoor sculpture garden.
Not only is the building visually appealing, but the circular arrangement also makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. At so many museums we find ourselves constantly backtracking and consulting the map to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Crystal Bridges is arranged in such a way that you can only view the collections in one direction, ensuring that you don’t miss a thing. Simply start at the beginning and follow the galleries as they curve around the building.
Aside from what we thought was an excellently curated collection of art, we also appreciated how the paintings were arranged in chronological order. Each gallery featured art from a different era with a short description of the influencing factors of the day.
Sharing photographs of art from a museum always feels a bit strange. The experience of seeing a painting up close and in person can never be duplicated by looking at a photograph on your computer. But because I know not everyone can drive to the northwest corner of Arkansas to view this amazing collection, I’m going to share some of my favorite pieces with you. Just like at the museum, I’ll put them in chronological order so you can see how art has shifted through the ages.
The above ink drawing is part of a 3-panel series. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a photo of all three due to the glare from the window behind me. Each panel depicted a different animal. What I found so impressive was that when you look closely it becomes apparent that the images are formed by words. The series is a critique of Edward Gibbons book, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Each drawing is composed entirely of words from Gibbon’s book.
As you can see, the Crystal Bridges museum displays an amazing collection of American Art. We spent about two hours wandering around and still missed out on the Frank Llyod Wright house and most of the outdoor sculpture garden. If you ever find yourself even kind of close by, this place is definitely worth a visit. Oh, and did I mention that it’s free????