A Museum in the Heart of Wall-Mart Country

By Tony Moorby April 22, 2024

My twin brother and I used to love going to art museums together. No surprise that we both appreciated the same types of styles ranging from classic to modern but we both leaned toward Impressionism. As he lived in England and we visited one another often, we were spoiled for choice, either there or here. Four years ago we were scheduled to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas – the brainchild of Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart’s Sam Walton. Robin’s untimely passing prevented that visit.

To observe the fourth anniversary of that event, my daughter, Allison and I just made the trip and spent three days in awe of the museum, its exhibits and the town, itself. Bentonville is oozing with art, not in a tacky, touristy way, but with references to art and things artistic in every corner, beautifully and stylishly executed at every turn. In the town square, in every side street or parking lot; it’s fabulous. Our hotel’s halls, rooms and public areas provided a veritable gallery of its own. A 1960 Cadillac Deville, covered in pennies, graced the front courtyard. The town’s amenities and utilities, from fences to manhole covers are beautifully designed and finished and the place is as clean as a new pin.

A woodland trail from the town to the museum’s campus has art installations along the way from a giant spider to a tree made of chrome. Stunning stuff! All this leads to several gorgeous wood and glass pavilions designed by the architect, Moshe Safdie, nestled in a vale with spring-fed ponds. The project is ongoing; having broken ground in 2011 and major additions are currently under way.

Everything has been designed for the comfort of the visitor; large display areas are beautifully designed and decorated, many with concave walls for easy viewing if multiple paintings form a sequence or embrace a period. The whole place is pure genius.

While it’s not easy to get to, a small regional airport has limited access via a couple of budget carriers; a two- to three-hour ride through the adjacent states is hardly a chore. We flew into Kansas City and readily retreated to the flatlands and farmland leading south. An easy lope allowed us to chat and catch up as time passed in a trice.

You would think that a small town in Middle America might have a dearth of places to eat. Of course there were the usual smattering of the Interstate standbys on the way in but, in the end, we were spoiled with tempting restaurants and terrific hospitality. Inventive menus that would have done justice to any New York or LA eatery were in abundance and we took advantage at every opportunity. The seat belt on the ride back to KC protested its new commitment! 

As one who likes to paint (or at least try) I’m awed at the talents, ideas and creativity of every stripe of humanity. Exquisite Creatures is an exhibition of insects, plants and animals, arranged in artistic designs, underpinning the appreciation of art, science and nature in jaw-dropping displays. Kids and grown-ups were wide eyed all around us.

A Frank Lloyd Wright house, taken apart in New Jersey and re-erected on site in the grounds of the museum confirms wider genius around us. I’ve rarely enjoyed such a heartfelt, indulgent and rewarding time. Ally, too, felt so happy with the trip – it was as though Robin was there, after all.


Last modified on Monday, 22 April 2024 17:28