Crystal Bridges museum inspires visitors, both with art and architecture

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – When the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened last November, some people called it the most important major new museum in the country.  Art experts say it’s a world class facility.  The art and the building reportedly cost more than $800 million, and, if you shop at Walmart, you helped pay for it.

There’s little at this new art museum that reminds one of Walmart -- certainly not the architecture and not the chrome metal tree at the entrance.  However, when you step inside, there is this: the greeter who is quick to say “Welcome to Crystal Bridges,” similar to the greeters at Walmart stores.

That’s where any similarity ends.  When you enter the galleries, a world of famous American art awaits.

In the first room are iconic portraits of George Washington, including the inspiration for Washington’s image on the one dollar bill.  As visitors proceed, centuries of American art take them through the decades and art styles.  Many visitors have first seen these landscapes and portraits only in books, but these are the originals.

All this art is from Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart.

Reactions from various visitors on a recent day

“I get chills thinking about her sharing all the art she bought and to build this place.  It’s just fabulous.”

As visitors move from one gallery to the next, they experience the buildings as works of art.

“The building is actually a work of art as much as the artwork contained in it.”

“I think it’s great.  It gives people who might not otherwise have a chance to see this museum if it were on the coast a chance to enjoy it.  So it’s amazing.”

As they move from room to room, visitors see a progressive history of American art.  In one gallery is Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” and several paintings by Thomas Hart Benton of Kansas City, Mo.

 The museum also has contemporary works.  Some of them are fun, like one made of jack-in-the-box toys, and one called Bad Yard -- a few said it looks like their yard.

“It’s different, I will say that, but, yeah, I would go along as saying it is art. I like it.”

Another piece is a tapestry made from spools of thread -- thousands of them.  Only when viewed through a glass globe is the image revealed.

Many of the visitors on a recent day said they shop at Walmart and realize they helped pay for the art and architecture here.

“I think it’s great they’re actually doing something good, since Walmart gets kind of a bad rap from people who say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to shop at Walmart.’  They’re donating and giving back to the public.  I think it’s a great thing that this is here for everybody to come and see.”

“Some of the architecture work here I see is pretty top notch, and it looks like out of the future. It’s pretty sharp.”

Crystal Bridges is open every day except Tuesdays.  Many museums of this quality charge hefty admission fees and some require reservations.  Crystal Bridges is free and no reservations are needed.  The drive is a little more two hours from Springfield.