Take the Family to Visit Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas

ASTONISHING!”  That’s the descriptive that comes to mind when I think about my trip to Bentonville, Arkansas’ Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  Then I say to myself, “Is this place really here in America’s heartland? How lucky I am to have a place like this so close to home!”

Crystal Bridges is an amazing sight to see —- artistically, architecturally and aesthetically.  The art collection rivals those found in large urban museums; the building itself is an architectural delight and the grounds are lush and peaceful. It is a MUST see.

Not only are Americans quickly growing to appreciate this museum as one of our nation’s finest, but art lovers worldwide are now putting Bentonville’s major attraction on their bucket list, too.

History In the Making

A big thanks is warranted to Alice Walton, an heiress to the Walton fortune, because you and I have access to a first-rate major collection of American art, spanning five centuries from the Colonial era to the present. And the number of artworks keeps growing. Walton took her lifelong love of art and amassed an outstanding collection to share with the world.  The family’s foundation agreed to help fund the development of this exclusive American art museum right smack in Middle America. They believed that if they built it, people would come.

Beginning in 2006, the work was underway at the base of a ravine in the middle of the Ozark forest.  Designed by world-renowned contemporary Israeli architect, Moshe Safdie, who is credited for critically acclaimed works including his debut in Montreal for Expo ’67, the structure is curvaceous, heavily laced with glass and contains copper bridges layered over connecting ponds. In 2011 the doors opened and more than 650,000 people came to see Alice Walton’s dream that first year.

Permanent Collection/Special Activities

The art, for the most part, is hung chronologically, beginning with the Colonial pieces. The displays are visually appealing, often exhibiting works on curved walls and through simple separators and partitions within high-ceiling galleries that masterfully flow together. The collection includes works by Mary Cassat, John Singer Sargent, Thomas Moran, Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and so many more, too numerous to name here.  Just go see for yourself!

Crystal Bridges prides itself on education and activities, engaging its visitors as much as possible. There is a library, with a magical view of the property, housing books galore about the artists and their work. And, since admiring art can be both exhilarating and tiring, there are casual lounges throughout the building for rest and reflection. All, of course, have incredible views for added relaxation.

A unique feature of Crystal Bridges is its array of programs and events planned specifically for families.  There are workshops, family tours, and the Experience Art Studio, where children can create their own masterpieces under the guidance of artist-educators. In addition, “Art Tote” kits are available for families while viewing the galleries.

Art in Nature

Crystal Bridges’ overarching philosophy is “that art and nature are both vital to the human spirit, and should be accessible to all.”  The museum is situated within a sprawling 120-acre park. Open year round, three miles of trails snake through the Ozark forest, allowing for exploration and discovery among rock bluffs, dogwoods, evergreens and cedar trees along the natural spring, Crystal Spring, that flows into two ponds. Bronze, stone and fiberglass sculptures (even a Frank Lloyd Wright House—coming in May 2015) strategically and sporadically adorn the grounds. Works include those by famous sculptors such as Keith Haring and Robert Indiana, known for his LOVE image, created for MOMA in the 1960s.

Artistically Satisfy Your Appetite

When it’s time to recharge after admiring art and walking the grounds, Crystal Bridges’ restaurant, Eleven, won’t disappoint. Atmospherically, the venue gets an A++ because it overlooks the magnificent architecture, ponds, sculptures and gardens. The plates are prepared by food artisans, using local ingredients as standard practice, and wine and cocktails are available. There is also a coffee bar for refueling.

Hours of Operation/Admission

Hours are tricky, so keep that in mind.  The museum is open Mondays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. –  6 p.m., and until 9 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is closed on Tuesdays. Weekend hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. General admission is always free, due to Walmart’s sponsorship.  Some special traveling exhibits may have a fee. Memberships are available, which provide discounts to temporary exhibits and at the impressive museum store.

Having seen Crystal Bridges now has made me regret that I wasn’t there on opening day, and that I haven’t been there more than once already. I believe that, like me, once you witness this place firsthand, you’ll get sucked in and crave being immersed in the magnificence. Take the Crystal Bridges plunge. It’s so worth the trip!

Easy Access to Amazing American Art/ Bentonville Crystal Bridges Museum of Art

  • 600 Museum Way
  • Bentonville, AR   72712
  • 479.418.5700

Leaving from the Tulsa area, you can be at the museum in a quick 2 ½ hours. Take 412 East to Springdale, AR and take 49N to Bentonville. It’s a pleasant drive that’s doable roundtrip in a day.  However, I highly recommend making it an overnighter.  That way, you won’t feel rushed and can even take advantage of everything at the museum more than once during your trip.

There are plenty of kid-friendly hotels in the area including:

  • Courtyard by Marriott, 1001 McClain Road, Bentonville, AR 72712; Phone: 479-273-3333
  • DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Bentonville, 301 SE Walton Blvd., Bentonville, AR 72712; Phone: 479-845-7770
  • Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, 2205 SE Walton Blvd., Bentonville, AR 72712; Phone: 479-271-2222
Categories: Travel