Naturally, fine art is the central attraction — and theme — at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
However, mental images of insolent patrons milling about a musty exhibit hall should be put away when considering a visit to Northwest Arkansas’ newest crown jewel, scheduled to open Nov. 11 in Bentonville.
From conception to completion, Crystal Bridges intends to attract, entertain and educate folks of all ages and levels of interest in the arts.
The Walton Family Foundation an-nounced the concept for the museum in May 2005. It would be built by distinguished architect Moshe Safdie from wood, concrete and abundant glass, along with copper for roofing. Safdie’s inspiration was to create a refuge in the middle of the forest.
The predominantly glass construction is intended to produce a sensation of being en- veloped in nature. Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits, one of the first in the permanent collection, reflects the vision and heart of Crys- tal Bridges with its scenic, outdoor setting.
Founder Alice Walton shared that her mother, Helen, believed the land where Crystal Bridges stands was always meant for “something special.”
“The name Crystal Bridges was inspired by the wonderful design of the building, as well as the historic Crystal Spring that is one of the beautiful places within the park,” Walton said.
The spring was diverted and piped under- ground during construction. Eight pavilions, including the restaurant and the temporary-art wing for traveling exhibitions, will over- look 8-foot-deep pools of water.
Even getting to Crystal Bridges is meant to be a connection to nature. Visitors can drive directly to the museum through the area’s scenic landscape, or walk to the museum along one of several trails.
A parking garage next to the museum is accessible from J Street or John DeSheilds Boulevard. Parking at Compton Gardens or downtown Bentonville leaves about a half-mile walk to the museum’s south entrance.
Parking for the handicap-accessible path is located just off NE 5th Street and leads to the skyspace sculpture The Way of Color by James Turrell on the Art Trail.
Additional access points will open in November, including the Dogwood Trail, Orchard Trail, Rock Ledge Trail, Tulip Trail and Crystal Springs Loop.
“The journey to the museum itself is a pilgrimage through nature,” said Amber Hen- drickson, senior administrative assistant.
There are two state champion trees near the start of the trail at Compton Gardens, sev- en multiuse trails and more than 400 species of native plants and trees. Parallel to the Crystal Bridges Trail is the All-American off-road biking path that leads to the city’s Slaughter Pen bike park.
Residents and visitors have been walking, biking and running the Crystal Bridges Trail since it opened in July 2009.
“We’ve had remarkable success with about 2,500 weekend visitors,” said Sandy Edwards, deputy director of museum relations.
Several sculptures are in place along the Art Trail, including Shore Lunch by Dan Ostermill- er, a bronze work depicting a bear fishing by a stream. Children are welcome to wade in the stream and climb on the rocks in this area.
EMPHASIS ON INTERACTION
The emphasis on interaction continues inside the museum in The Experience Studio Area, a hands-on studio to engage all ages.
“How experience ties into education is a principle of our founder, Alice Walton,” said Hendrickson.
The area is intended to help children and adults to express their own creative nature as well as learn the stories behind certain pieces of artwork.
The educational outreach of Crystal Bridges has two branches — general public and school programs. Public programs will be held on and off-site and will include tours, in-depth workshops, films, lectures, annual events and festivals. School programs will be curriculum-based offerings ranging from stu- dent tours to professional development for educators.
Also in keeping with the education theme, the building and grounds include many “re- flection areas” with comfortable seating and exhibition books to provide details about different artists, genres and works of art.
“People will easily be able to go between the inside and outside. Between the galleries are spaces that allow people to stop, view and enjoy the surroundings,” Edwards said.
DAY TRIP DESTINATION
The museum is sure to be popular with local and regional residents alike looking to make a day trip. But with 201,000 square feet of inside space and 120 acres outside, cover- ing it all in a day figures to be quite a challedge.
“One may experience a good survey of the collection and other museum-related offerings within a full day,” Edwards said. “Of course, much depends on the guest’s personal interests. If time in the library or a walk along the trails seems appealing, it could easily blend into another day.”
So although it might be a bit rushed, a worthwhile one-day visit is possible.
The permanent collection will hold about 600 pieces of artwork from the Colonial Era to current day, occupying about 40,000 square feet of gallery space.
A number of pieces should not be missed, museum officials say, including the rare historic publication Victoria Regia that illustrates the monument of American color printing during the 1850s. There is also the collection of 400 postcards from Frank Warren’s cultural phenomenon PostSecret, the infamous Norman Rockwell paining Rosie the Riveter, the portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale, The Indian and the Lily by George de Forest Brush, the dynamic Valley of the Catawissa in Autumn by Thomas Moran, The Island by Walton Ford and Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol.
REASONS TO RETURN
During construction of the museum, many pieces from the permanent collection were on loan at other art institutions. By this gesture, Crystal Bridges was able to build relationships with museums nationwide before its baptism into the art community. This in turn should help stock the 9,000 square feet reserved for traveling exhibits.
“To date, Crystal Bridges has loaned 77 works of art to 40 institutions throughout the world. Moving into the future, these partner- ships will afford Crystal Bridges the opportu- nity to present important artwork from inter- national museums, private collections and an enhanced calendar of traveling exhibitions,” Hendrickson said.
“Our intention is to change out the exhibitions frequently so that people will revisit the museum often,” Edwards said.
Another reason to return to Crystal Bridges will be the on-site restaurant. The full-service dining room is centrally located with the pools of water on each side.
Local restaurateur Case Dighero will serve as director of culinary services, overseeing a menu of American fare described as “pro- gressive, yet accessible.”
The museum aims to build relationships with local farmers, businesses and artisans to embrace the region’s local work force.
In addition to art galleries, Crystal Bridges will host a library, meeting and office spaces, and an outdoor amphitheater.
Also, the glasen-closed auditorium named The Great Hall is a flat-floor gathering area that can accommodate up to 300 persons for community and private receptions.
The walkway to The Great Hall will spotlight other area attractions.
“We believe it is all of our jobs to encour- age people to visit other areas,” said Edwards. “Crystal Bridges will definitely enhance local business. There will be impact whether visi- tors are here for a day trip or from out of the area.”
Crystal Bridges will conduct outreach programs through area schools to cultivate an interest in the arts. The museum houses classrooms for workshops, films and lectures and curriculum based-programs. Family pro- grams, public events, concerts and annual festivals also are planned.
Memberships, family and individual passes are available.
More information is available online at crystalbridges.org.