During our anniversary vacation, Tim and I decided to visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The buildings themselves are an architectural wonder set back on 120 acres in Bentonville, Arkansas. One of the best parts about the museum besides the beautiful setting, Frank Lloyd Wright home, nature trails and art is the price: Free. Yes, free for the permanent collection on view to the public.
As a woodworker and remodeler, Tim was most interested in the Frank Lloyd Wright home located on the property. The home was originally built for a couple in New Jersey, but was consistently inundated with water from the nearby river (sound familiar Ozarkians?) prompting the owners to decide to move the house to a more practical environment. The home was taken apart, the pieces numbered, crated and sent to its new home in the Ozark hills. There are numerous videos available online about this particular house if you are interested in its history. Unfortunately for us there were only so many tickets available for purchase on any given day to actually tour the inside of this home and we were too late. I recommend you buy online ahead of your trip. Tim and I arrived at the museum 15 minutes after opening and they were already sold out due to the high demand and internet sales. The home is small and so to preserve the structure admission is very restricted.
There are 3.5 miles of trails which showcase large, weather resistant art pieces available for the nature lover/artist to see while wandering about the property. One section of trail requires a purchased ticket due to the exhibit on display currently: Chihuly In The Forest. This artist’s glass creations are especially beautiful in park settings and his work is displayed on the North Forest Trail. Not being fond of exercise while on vacation, Tim vetoed the idea of a nature walk and we marveled over the inside architecture instead.
Crystal Bridges reminds one of steel turtles nestled in a river, interconnected by more steel and concrete walkways, decks, patios and outdoor seating. To the untrained eye the wooden arches spanning the immense space look as though they were hewn from some ancient and enormous log. On closer inspection, one can see the divisions and edges of the separate pieces brought together and curved to create the beams, a technical marvel.
American art, from as early as the 1600’s, purchased from collections all over the country are on display and give one an appreciation for the workmanship, detail and time it takes to create something so realistic and lasting. The collections are grouped mostly by century, but also by artist or by genre of subject making it easier to make sense of the timeline and influences the artist may have been under at the time. At times the frames showcasing the paintings were as intricate and interesting as the paintings themselves.
Modern American artists, of course, dominate the last steps of the museum. While walking down the staircase to the Buckminster Fuller exhibit, look up. The most fascinating piece of modern art Tim and I had ever seen was in this intricate string art displayed over the staircase. I won’t tell you anymore here, you just have to see it for yourself. To me, most modern art requires a lengthy explanation from the artist to understand. As these folks were not available, we didn’t spend much time in this section.
All in all, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was worth the 2 hour drive. If you wanted to wander around on the trails, it would definitely take longer than the 2 hours we were in the museum admiring the art. The museum also has a coffee bar and restaurant, Eleven, if you wanted to make a whole day of it. I would also recommend, if you dislike crowds, that you call ahead and see if any school field trips are scheduled for the day you wish to go. Tim and I tried to visit on a Friday afternoon around 2, but upon spying the 4 school buses and the line to get in the door, quickly revised our schedule and we went early Saturday morning. They are open until nine at night on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and closed on Tuesday so plan accordingly.
No flash photography is allowed and knowledgeable museum guides are prominent in every room to make sure the rules are followed and to answer any questions you may have. Self-guided headphone tours are also available; ask at the front desk when you check in. Even though admission is free, you must check in and receive your day pass, so inquire about headphones there. The museum website: https://crystalbridges.org is very informative and user friendly so check it out before you plan your trip. Upon reflection after your visit you may surprise yourself at how much you have learned and how appreciative you are of what American artists have to offer.