When most people think about Northwest Arkansas, they often think of Walmart and the University of Arkansas, businesses that have made big impacts on the communities around them.
Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, decided that she wanted to make an impact on the Northwest Arkansas community too. She is the orchestrator behind the biggest art museum in the state of Arkansas, and she sought to add a nonprofit to that list of businesses, leaving a legacy in the local community.
In 2011, when Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was built, Walton’s dream of an art museum that people from all over could visit for free became a reality.
With admission paid for by Walmart, visitors can come and enjoy the many exhibits, walking trails and pieces of art for free.
Crystal Bridges houses more than 400 pieces of art spanning a 240 year period, with the earliest piece being a painting of President George Washington from the 1780s. The pieces are displayed in four permanent exhibits. The first exhibit starts with pieces in the Colonial Era. The last exhibit ends with pieces from the 20th century.
Walton’s goal behind building Crystal Bridges was to “highlight the full scope of American art and history,” which includes the natural artistic appeal of the woods and springs surrounding the building. She wanted the rolling hills and wooded area surrounding the museum to be a special part of every visitor’s experience.
There are a total of seven exhibitions, six of which are permanent and one temporary exhibition, which is switched out three times a year and usually stays at Crystal Bridges for three to four months.
Each exhibition is divided into different chronological categories, except for one, which is exclusively used to showcase the works of local artists. The exhibitions host a variety of art pieces including paintings of different styles, sculptures, watercolors, sketches with pen, charcoal or pencil and tactile pieces.
Some of the most well-known American artworks shown in these exhibits include the art of Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol.
One of the reasons John Brown University senior Andrea Perry likes to visit the museum is to see the Norman
“Norman Rockwell’s ‘Rosie the Riveter’ is my absolute favorite piece of art there,” Perry said. “When I was a child, my mom would let me flip through this giant Best of Norman Rockwell book that she had. I was in love with his realism and creativity. His work was timeless and relatable.”
On the weekends, Crystal Bridges seeks to engage their visitors in a more hands-on and captivating way so that when people leave, they will want to come back, no matter how far away they live, and tell their friends. Some of the activities they host are live demonstrations by local artists, live orchestral music being played next to a piece of art and guided tours.
Another unique aspect of Crystal Bridges compared to other art museums is that they also desire to show the art in nature. The biggest way that they seek to include nature is through their four walking trails scattered throughout the grounds.
The trails take visitors through the surrounding wooded area filled with native flowers and trees. They will also walk up upon and alongside larger pieces of art, like a bronze pig and a stainless steel tree, which may be too big to fit inside the museum. The background of the changing landscape also adds to the look of the pieces.
On their trail walk, visitors will also come across the Crystal Spring, from which the museum receives its name, and the Tulip Tree Shelter that gives visitors a place to hide from the sun and rest while still enjoying the beauty of the nature around them.
After visiting Crystal Bridges, guests will come away with many memories of the beautiful pieces of art they saw in the exhibitions. They will remember the welcome that they received from the very first moment they were greeted.
The beauty of the rolling hills and wooded area with natural flowing springs will prompt them to want to walk the trails before they leave, if only for a brief moment to catch the art not kept inside.
And of course, visitors will walk away with a better knowledge and understanding of the different works of art created by American artists, depicting the different struggles and joys of living in America all the way from the Colonial Era to the 20th century.
It will be a place to visit often, with friends and family members to help discover this jewel tucked away in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas.
Julia Cason lives in Little Rock, Ark., a three-hour drive from the museum, yet she said that she frequents the museum often because she finds the water soothing.
Cason and her husband have children that live in a nearby town and the couple will often meet them at the museum for lunch and a walk on the trails. While the couple waits, Cason sits in the restaurant located in one of the museum’s sections where she can sit comfortably and look over the pond and see the fish swimming below her.
Having lived all over the United States, including the New England area and in California, she has been to many art museums, and she said that she enjoys telling her friends that Arkansas has good art museums too.