About 10 years ago, Brian and Tiffany read a magazine article about a new museum focused on American Art that had a huge endowment 4 times that of the Whitney. Unlike most museums, it would not be housed in an old palace or renaissance/marble equivalent. This was to be in a new facility nestled in a ravine amongst 120 acres of woods and trails. The idea was to make nature part of the experience. The benefactor, like many substantial art collectors, got their money from industry. Not oil or finance like the Rockefellers or JP Morgan, but a 21st century industry – retail.
Over the course of the article, the author took herself (and us as readers) on a journey. From skepticism that Walmart heiress Alice Walton could build a destination museum in the hills of Bentonville, Arkansas to intrigue in the collection that she was putting together and the linkage to nature that this facilty would inspire.
Our opinion after reading it was along the lines of: “That sounds really cool, too bad we’ll never go to Bentonville, Arkansas so we’ll never see it.”
We really didn’t give it another thought.
But then we starting planning our route home and noticed that we passed less than 100 miles from Bentonville. It was clear that the description of this museum had made an impact on us. 10 years later we both immediately decided that Crystal Bridges was worth the detour.
We arrived not long after it opened this morning and it already had a healthy number of visitors. We didn’t get a lot of pictures of the buildings themselves but, of course, enjoyed looking at the model.
Being in the spaces was interesting and passing through glass areas showing trees and water from one gallery to the next was a welcome transition.
The permanent collection had some very interesting pieces and they did some unique things. In one gallery they grouped several paintings depicting the American Old West and asked patrons to drop a fuzzy colored pom into a cylinder to indicate what the painting evoked. The choices were; action, colonial, violence, truth, fantasy or nostalgia.
It was an interesting challenge and we all participated, even the kids who, once we had answered their questions about what nostalgia meant, chose that for a couple images.
We were conscious of many miles to travel today so we didn’t linger, but the range of exhibits was interesting for the parents and the kids and we enjoyed it very much.
The special exhibit was titled ‘We the People: The Radical Notion of Democracy’.
It had several paintings from the permanent collection including a large John Trumbull portrait of Alexander Hamilton and another of the Marquis de Lafayette.
What made this exhibit special was a rare original print of the US Constitution on display – one of only 11 known in the world. We also saw prints of the Declaration of Independence, the proposed Bill of Rights, the Articles of Confederation, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. No photos were allowed of these precious documents but seeing them reminds us of how rare a privilege our democracy is and how much work continues to maintain it.
After passing through all the galleries and even appreciating the art in the cafe, we were back on the road.
One of the benefits of going on our detour to Crystal Bridges was that it was in Arkansas – a state that only Tiffany had been to before. After that was Oklahoma, which was new for Tiffany and the kids and Texas and New Mexico also new for the kids. Brian and Tiffany have visited 48 states and the kids are up to 33 states. Perhaps we’ll have some more Adventures trying to get everyone up to 50.
We only walked 1800 steps today but made 650 miles of progress toward home. Only two more nights on this unbelievable trip.