Awe-inspiring. Gorgeous. Amazing. And these are just the impressions that came to mind before I even crossed the threshold of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
The whole idea of going to Bentonville, Arkansas—located approximately 110 miles from Tulsa, Oklahoma, 216 miles from Little Rock, Arkansas and 235 miles from Kansas City, Missouri—emerged from seeing an intriguing, in-depth feature about the Crystal Bridges Museum on CBS Sunday Morning a few days before it opened on 11.11.11 (a motif that is carried out in the name of its restaurant—Eleven—which we’ll talk about in a bit).
The interviewer was exploring the museum with its founder, Alice Walton, the daughter of the late Walmart founder Sam Walton, whose family has been the driving force behind Bentonville’s development since 1950 when the family moved here.
From the jaw dropping architecture, to the stunning Ozark landscape into which the museum was flawlessly melded, to the artworks, we just sat in front of the TV and said, “Wow! We’ve got to go there!”
Where Art, Nature and Love Meet
If the numbers are any indication--300,000 visitors coming through their doors within just the first six months (pre-opening estimates were for well below that for the first year), coupled with rave press reviews (Travel + Leisure magazine, the New York Times, and the Washington Post among them), then you get the idea that the Crystal Bridges Museum has already joined the echelons as among the most significant museums in the world.
Designed by world-renown architect Moshe Safdie (think the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia; the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri; the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Vancouver, British Columbia; and the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, just to name a few), the name for the museum came from its setting—a natural spring called Crystal Spring which now flows on a wooded site on the property and feeds into the museum’s charming ponds. Unlike perhaps any other museum of this scale in the world, the setting is what truly brings it all together.
Set in a valley bowl amidst towering trees, verdant native plants and flowers and awe-inspiring natural Ozark rock formations, there are two ways to approach the museum: along the vehicle road to the grand main entrance and parking garage, or via the enchanting 1.5 mile, multi-use Crystal Bridges Trail.
The trail meanders down from the downtown square and other parts of the surrounding residential areas, gently plopping you into the 120-acre museum park encompassing impressive sculptures and a picturesque museum overlook. I can’t impress upon you enough how stunning the setting is, both day and night (and yes, we came back twice it was so captivating).
The are six others trails—paved, crushed granite and gravel—and a spectacular overlook on the property as well, each exuding a different aspect and flavor and flair of the Ozark environment. Among them is the Art Trail, featuring an amphitheater and several, beautiful outdoor sculptures.
This trail also is where you will find Skyspace: The Way of Color, a naked-eye viewing chamber open to the sky that from dusk to dark features an energizing computer-programmed LED display that emits a range of colors that reflecting differently against the sky and walls of the structure’s circular chamber constructed of native Arkansas stone and Kansas limestone.
We’ll delve into the architectural and artistic genius at the museum in the next installment.