Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art: Exploring Alice’s Wonderland

Visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a surprising collection in the middle of the Ozarks.

If you were to tell me that Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and I had anything in common besides our gender, nationality, and race, I would scoff and think you were a little off your deeply discounted made-in-China rocker.

Alice is the first or second or third wealthiest woman in the country, depending on what year it is. I am…not. Yet, as I was researching the art museum she founded in the middle of the Ozarks, I found that we absolutely had something in common.

As little girls, we each saved our allowance to buy art.

She’s the first or second or third wealthiest woman in the country, depending on what year it is. I am…not. Yet, as I was researching the art museum she founded in the middle of the Ozarks, I found that we absolutely had something in common. As little girls, we each saved our allowance to buy art.

When I was around twelve, I think, my dad was exhibiting at the Around the Fountain art fair in Lafayette, Indiana. I browsed the other artists’ tents and fell in love with a framed and matted photo of a backlit buck in a golden glade.

All I had was $20. I don’t know if it was because I was a pre-teen or because my dad was a fellow artist, but Mr. Chet Chalinski accepted my bid and I purchased my first piece.

Alice was slightly younger when she bought hers. At ten years old she took her two dollars, which represented about eight weeks of allowance, and bought a reproduction of Picasso’s “Blue Nude” in her father’s Ben Franklin dime-store franchise.

Both were formative events, enough so that we each remember our own decades later, but that’s where the similarities end. Since that little girl’s earnest purchase, Alice became a full-fledged collector and in 2011 founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

This is part of our EPIC Southwest USA road trip from the Chicago-area to San Diego and back!

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

The museum is situated on 120 acres in the unlikely town of Bentonville, Arkansas. When you consider that’s Alice’s hometown the location makes sense, but the idea of a world-class museum in the middle of the Ozarks is surprising.

Alice – I feel like we’re on a first-name basis, what with the girlhood art-loving connection – used several millions of her billions to purchase works by some of America’s most defining artists, to the chagrin of the art scene on the coasts.

She caused quite the stink when she bought Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits” for $35 million from the New York Public Library. “She’s taking it WHERE?” was the hue and cry.

The maverick heiress has even been known to bid on Sotheby’s auctions from the saddle of her horse in Texas. To the benefit of those who aren’t in New York, Los Angeles, or even Chicago, her dogged pursuit has lined the walls of the museum with works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Frederic Church, Roy Lichtenstein, and John Singer Sargent, to name a very few.

Eight galleries showcase a broad cross-section of American art, from before the country began to modern times. It’s a veritable who’s who of American artists and a collection of iconic American symbols.

Frederic Church at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Frederic Church
Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol
Georgia O'Keeffe at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Georgia O’Keeffe

Admission to the museum is free, courtesy of Walmart. which means that anyone can view, up-close, the iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, or Alexander Hamilton in the most gigantic gold frame you’ve ever seen, or Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter, brandishing a sandwich to go with that bandana.

George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
George Washington by Gilbert Stuart
Normal Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter
Normal Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter

You can see the brush strokes in Sargent’s Robert Louis Stevenson and his Wife, or the languid subjects of Mary Cassatt. Frederick Eversley’s “Big Red Lens” turns everything rosy, and you’ll be transfixed by Ruth Asawa’s “Untitled.”

Frederick Eversley's "Big Red Lens"
Frederick Eversley’s “Big Red Lens”
Ruth Asawa's "Untitled"
Ruth Asawa’s “Untitled”

Every turn, every new gallery elicits a gasp of either recognition or appreciation or, most often, both. One gallery is devoted to U.S. Presidents and their slogans:

A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage was Herbert Hoover’s promise.

Don’t trade horses when crossing streams was Abraham Lincoln’s admonition.

Let’s make America great again was the rallying cry of…Ronald Reagan.

The museum does not just contain art within its buildings, the architecture itself is a work of art. Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, it straddles Crystal Creek, harnessing the natural beauty that surrounds and envelopes its unique design.

For another unique place in Arkansas, visit nearby Eureka Springs, the town with no right angles.

Instead of razing trees and building the museum on the banks of the river, Safdie created two ponds from the creek and erected the museum over and around the water, hence the name Crystal Bridges.

Even the restaurant is a performance piece, situated between the two ponds and enclosed in a light-filled frame of floor-to-ceiling windows and an arched roof.

Restaurant at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Restaurant at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Outside, sculptures turn the three miles of trails that weave through the grounds into an alfresco gallery (including a GIANT SPIDER. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.).

"Yield" at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
“Yield”
Louis Bourgeois, Maman
Louis Bourgeois, Maman

Alice has created her own art-lovers wonderland, and this is one rabbit hole worth jumping into heart first. 

Planning a trip to Bentonville? Find a top-rated hotel near Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

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Visiting Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is located in Bentonville in the northwest corner of Arkansas.

Crystal Bridges Museum Hours

  • Mondays and Wednesdays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Thursdays and Fridays 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 
  • Closed on Tuesdays, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day

Crystal Bridges Trails and Grounds are open from sunrise to sunset daily and during museum hours.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, 600 Museum Way, Bentonville, AR 72712. You can find their current exhibitions on their website.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas