Art in the Ozarks

What did you do over your summer vacation? Cameron and I traveled widely, from Hawaii to Cape Cod. But one of the most rewarding outings was a road trip to Arkansas topped off by a visit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. It’s a long day’s drive from Houston to that northeast corner of Arkansas but backroads will take you through some beautiful country in Eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Panoramic view of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Even if you’ve not visited, you’re probably aware of this newish museum that opened in 2011. It’s a pet project by Walmart heiress and philanthropist, Alice Walton, and showcases a collection spanning some 500 years of American art, including Latin American art, Native American art, Spanish Colonial objects, folk art and bilingual text. While we were there in July, for example, there was a temporary exhibit of work by Diego Rivera with sketches and studies for some of his monumental murals as well as paintings. (It closed July 31.)

A few of Crystal Bridges’ remarkable features:

  • Admission and parking are both free, thanks to underwriting from the Walmart Foundation.
  • The museum is seamlessly tucked into 120 acres of Ozark forest and includes five miles of trails. It is near Crystal Springs, which is just south of the museum.

  • The architecture is by Moshe Safdie, and building materials include laminated wood beams, white pine and long expanses of glass. Some of the museum’s eight pavilions are set next to the two ponds, while others actually span the water like, well, bridges.

  • Walking within the various buildings, you are surrounded by nature on all sides. The dining area, for instance, looks out onto water edged by woods. Even the parking is discreetly out of sight.

  • Since its opening, Crystal Bridges has welcomed nearly 11 million guests. That’s not a lot compared to, say the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which recorded more than 7 million pre-Covid visitors in 2019. But Bentonville has a population of only about 60,000.
  • After just 12 years, the museum is already expanding by nearly 50 percent with a new spaces designed, again, by Safdie Architects.

The Crystal Bridges collection includes works such as Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed, Asher Brown Durand’s Kindred Spirits and one of Gilbert Stuart’s many portraits of George Washington. There are works by Mark Rothko, Maya Lin, Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Kehinde Wiley, Edward Hopper, Kerry James Marshall and Amy Sherald.

Annie Leibovitz, Amy Sherald, Columbus, GA, 2022. ©Annie Leibovitz.

Launching next week on September 16 is Annie Leibovitz at Work, the photographer’s first major museum exhibition in a decade. Her recent subjects include several important 21st-century figures, from Cindy Sherman to Lizzo to Tom Ford to Justice Ketanji Jackson Brown to Dolly Parton. The images will be seen as prints on paper and on high-tech digital display screens. It will be at Crystal Bridges through January 29, 2024.

The Bachman-Wilson house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

As architecture nerds, we were thrilled by an unexpected treasure on the museum grounds: an entire Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house – the Bachman-Wilson house – originally built along the Millstone River in New Jersey in 1956. The house was threatened by repeated flooding at its original location, and the architect/designer team Lawrence and Sharon Tarantino bought it in 1988 and restored it. They in turn determined that in order to preserve the house, they should sell it to an institution willing to relocate it. Crystal Bridges bought it in 2015, then dismantled and carefully moved the house to the museum grounds. Yes, you can tour inside.

The Bachman-Wilson house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Rear entrance

Two years later, Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome was also acquired.

Buckminster Fuller’s Fly’s Eye Dome

As a spin-off from Crystal Bridges there is something called the Momentary, which is located in downtown Bentonville and opened in February 2020. It is a performance and cultural arts center that “provides more opportunities for education, engagement and enjoyment” of the region. Its attractions include live music, an artist-in-residence program, culinary experiences, a shop and an outdoor festival space. We did not get there during July’s visit, but we will next time.

For more information about special exhibits, driving directions and daily hours, visit