Alice Walton and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

My weekly column from a recent day trip to Bentonville, Arkansas where I discovered two great places.

                     Down The Road with the Original Buffalo Dale

Welcome back.   The place is called Crystal Bridges, the magical name fits and last Friday found me there. Bentonville, AR is of course where Sam Walton started his first store, Walton’s Five and Dime. The original store is at the center of the old town square and today it is a free museum devoted to Mr. Walton’s accomplishments and it is a nice place to spend an hour or so.

Less than two miles away and hidden from view in a deep ravine is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art founded by Sam’s daughter Alice Walton. The museum was designed by the international architect Moshe Safdie and is truly a wonder, a multi-level building made up of a series of connected pods which surround a pool of water bubbling up from an underground spring. High walls of glass let the light pour in to various parts of the museum and other areas open onto decks overlooking the water. Although no final costs have been made public, construction estimates for the building and building systems alone are around $100,000,000. This does not include the fine examples of American art that are showcased here, many of which are literally priceless.

The museum has a collection of over 1,000 works and 432 of them are currently on display. The other pieces are either on loan to other institutions or in storage. These works will be displayed at a later date as the collection is rotated.

The underlying philosophy at the museum is that both art and nature are vital to the human spirit. Three miles of hiking trails cross the museum grounds which are beautifully landscaped and feature waterfalls and sculptures.

Everything at Crystal Bridges is well marked and there are dozens of helpful docents and museum employees to explain things and help you find your way around. I took the self guided tour but you can also join a group led by a docent or take an audio tour.

The museum is open to the public and it is all free. There is also no charge for parking, making this an amazing opportunity to visit a spectacular building and see some American treasures.

Another pleasant discovery on this adventure was the River Grille Steakhouse where I might have had the best steak I have ever eaten. The restaurant is conveniently located right on exit 88 off 540 and just a mile from Crystal Bridges. There is also a Bartlesville connection here as I learned that Jim Curd, the owner of Sterling’s Grille, is also an owner of the River Grille. The excellent service and delicious food that we are accustomed to at Sterling’s was on hand at the River Grille as well. We sampled many great dishes, from appetizers to deserts and if you are going to Bentonville it is certainly worth a stop to check’em out. I have also learned that the Curds’ son is now running the Dink’s in Bentonville making the restaurant business a true family tradition.

This ten hour day trip would not have happened without the vision of Alice Walton who has donated a large portion of the funding for construction of the building and the acquisition of the artwork She is clearly committed to establishing a major art museum in the Ozarks and has dedicated a substantial part of her 21 billion dollar personal fortune to making this a reality. During my visit, the museum was full of people, seemingly from all walks of life and many of whom may never have been in a museum like this before.

Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….





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