Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
When approaching Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art for the very first time, a visitor mightbe prompted to ask a puzzled question: “Where’s the museum?” Museum Way, the road which brings visitors into the museum property, is a winding drive through an Ozark forest, and even upon reaching the museum’s main entry, no monumental building facade is in evidence. Instead, the visitor arrives at a circle drive before a simple concrete colonnade.
The reason for Crystal Bridges’unassuming initial impact is that it is situated at the bottom of a natural stream bedthat cuts through the Ozark hills. The true size—and astonishing beauty—of the museum is not revealed until youget close enough to look downinto the ravine to glimpse the dramatic arched copper roofs and glass-walled bridges of the building’s architecture. An elevator from the colonnade takes visitors to the main lobby, four floors below the entry level.
Designed by global architect Moshe Safdie, Crystal Bridges is an architectural destination as well as an artistic one. The museum campus comprises several buildings, all interconnected, encircling two ponds created by dams along the spring-fed stream that flows through the ravine. Two domed bridge structures span the ponds: one housing the Museum’s restaurant, “Eleven,” and the other housing the Early Twentieth-Century Art Galleries. They are both walled with glass, providing breathtaking views of the museum’s ponds and architecture.
Crystal Bridges was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam and Helen Walton, the founders of Walmart, whose headquarters is also in Bentonville, the family’s hometown. An avid horsewoman, nature lover and art collector, Walton conceived the museum as a celebration not only ofAmerican art and history, but of the Ozark landscape she loved and explored as a child. The museum rests on 120 acres of native forest,most of which belonged to the Walton family. More than three miles of walking trails invite visitors to explore the grounds. Even inside the museum, the landscape is a constant presence. Windowed “reflection areas” between the galleries offer soothing views of the outdoors, with comfortable seating and stacks and stacks of books (a sampling of some of the morethan 50,000 volumes available in the Crystal Bridges Library on the third floor),inviting visitors to relax, browse and sit a spell.
The opportunity to sit and rest is a welcome one. There’s a lot to see here. Crystal Bridges collection of American art spans the history of the United States: from colonial times to the present. The galleries are arranged chronologically, so walking through the museum is like walking through a beautifully illustrated history of American art.