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South Texas Living

Crystal Bridges Not ‘just another art museum’

Crystal Bridges Not ‘just another art museum’
This model depicts the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., at night.

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Special to the Wilson County News
July 18, 2012
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Story and photos by
Harry and Linda Kaye Perez

There’s still time to fit in a road trip or two this summer. If you yearn to travel outside the Lone Star State, consider this destination, recommended by a reader.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Something spectacular happened on Nov. 11, 2011, in the beautiful Ozark Mountains. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art officially opened in Bentonville, Ark., a town of 35,000 people. If you are thinking “Just another art museum,” think again.

Crystal Bridges acquired its catchy name from Crystal Springs, which supplies the water for the three large ponds designed into the complex and for the two glass-enclosed and copper-roofed bridges that traverse the ponds. One of those bridges is home to the museum’s dining facility, appropriately named “Eleven” for the museum’s opening date, 11-11-2011. The second bridge houses several of the fabulous galleries within this complex.

Crystal Bridges beckons the spirit to enter a new world of nature and art, beautifully blended and woven together as you step onto the paved walking path just beyond the Bentonville town square. A short 10-minute walk takes you to the south entrance. The landscape along the way will take your breath away.

Bentonville was the home of Sam and Helen Walton. It was here that Sam and his brother, Bud, opened the Walton Five & Dime on the square in the heart of Bentonville in the mid-1940s. And the rest, as they say, is Walmart history. Alice Walton, their youngest daughter and a longtime collector of American art, was the driving force in the creation of Crystal Bridges.

The museum facility, encompassing more than 201,000 square feet, was built in a wooded ravine on 120 acres of land long owned by the Walton family. Architect Moshe Safdie spent 11 years from initial concept, reportedly drawn on a table napkin, to the completion of this multi-million-dollar facility. Nothing was overlooked in creating a people-friendly environment. There are more than 3-1/2 miles of trails open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year. Certain paths are designated for pedestrians only, while others allow bicycles.

Within the galleries of Crystal Bridges are five centuries of exquisite art, each an American masterpiece, including “Kindred Spirits” by Asher Brown Durand (1849), purchased from the New York Public Library for $35 million; a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, purchased for $8 million; and “Rosie the Riveter,” created by Norman Rockwell as a cover of the May 29, 1943, issue of the Saturday Evening Post. There are more than 440 works of art on display and another 800 are still in storage. Many of the paintings will be on public display for the first time, as they were purchased from private collections.

In addition to the galleries, there is also the Great Hall for receptions, concerts, and private catered events. The Crystal Bridges restaurant, Eleven, has everything from gourmet coffee and pastries to five-star dishes created by Executive Chef Jacob Harr, all at very reasonable “Walmart” prices. As a bonus, the view from Eleven is breathtaking.

Admission is now and will always be free, thanks to a $20 million grant provided by the Walmart Corp. Arkansas Tourism officials expect Crystal Bridges to become a more popular landmark than the Clinton Presidential Center in downtown Little Rock. In August 2012, Crystal Bridges will launch a school visit program to introduce children of all ages to the world of art.

Even if you are not an art lover, you will be entranced by this vibrant and beautiful complex. After spending a day at Crystal Bridges, walking the trails, relaxing, or enjoying a picnic at one of the many areas provided and perhaps visiting the galleries, you, too, will become a fan.

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from San Antonio. Together, they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world.

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