Monday, December 12, 2011

The Gift of Crystal Bridges

As I approached by automobile, the first thing I noticed when I arrived at the newly-opened Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, was the lifesize sculpture, resembling a tree, at the main entrance to the museum. It is made of stainless steel that has been welded into branchlike forms, and its appearance varies with the weather and time of day. (I can already visualize what it will look like later this winter with icicles hanging from it, that are being back lit by the sun, to give it the appearance of a crystal chandelier!)

The stainless steel tree sculpture, titled Yield is one of eleven sculptures on the grounds of the Crystal Bridges Museum complex. This photo illustrates that the sculpture's title is appropriate because this driveway is where one "yields" to handicapped persons who are being dropped off at the museum entrance.

From the upper level entrance used by those arriving by automobile, one can get a sense of the overall design of the building, spread out in the valley below. The museum's glass-and-wood design by architect Moshe Safdie and engineer Buro Happold features a series of pavilions nestled around two creek-fed ponds. The complex includes 217,000 square feet of galleries, several meeting and classroom spaces, a library, and a gathering space that can accommodate up to 300 people. In addition, there are outdoor areas for concerts and public events, as well as extensive nature trails.

Persons who have walked from the automobile parking lot, or have been let out at curbside, all travel down this elevated walkway to an enclosed elevator that takes them down to the museum's main lobby.

I snapped this photo while waiting for the elevator to take me down to the lobby. Considering the design on the stone floor of the lower level, one would think money came from the Target discount chain, rather than its true source---WalMart!!

Fayetteville, Arkansas architect Marlon Blackwell designed the Museum Store at Crystal Bridges to be an organic complement to the Museum's natural setting and distinctive architecture (Notice the plants growing on the roof of the store). I was familiar with the name Marlon Blackwell, because my son had gone on an overseas architecture tour with some other University of Arkansas students, that had been led by Marlon Blackwell.

Blackwell designed the interior ceiling and walls of the museum store to mimic the fluting on the underside of a mushroom. The mushroom design can be seen in this photo that shows the undulating cherrywood ribs of the ceiling and walls. The Museum Store carries beautiful gift items, books, and educational toys. Plus, if you are buying for someone else, gift cards are an option, so that the recipient can make their own selection from the numerous choices available.

The Museum's restaurant, Eleven, advertises that it offers "modern American comfort cuisine (including wine and cocktails) in a setting as vibrant and exciting as its menu." The restaurant is open for lunch between 11 AM and 2 PM, as well as being open for dinner on Wednesdays and Fridays from 5 PM to 9 PM. There is a coffee bar adjacent to the restaurant that remains open throughout the day.

This photo is a reminder that visitors can download an app for their own personal "electronic device" that will give them an audio tour of the various items they view in the art galleries. Audio tour devices can also be checked out at the Guest Services desk in the main lobby.

The day I visited the museum, I happened onto a free public lecture being given by Dr. Kevin Murphy, the museum's Curator of American Art. He is pictured here telling the background of a painting done by William Merritt Chase, during our country's Guilded Age. The management of the museum had thoughtfully placed numerous portable, foldable seats in front of the large painting for attendees to sit on during the lecture. The design of the seats was such that they would take up very little space when stored, but yet could be moved to anywhere in the museum that a temporary seating area needed to be set up.

The very BEST thing about the art lecture I attended on the day I visited, was running into my friend, Cynthia Coffman Morris (we share the same hometown of Harrison, Arkansas). She is pictured here with the painting by Mary Cassatt, that she states is her current favorite of all the museum's works. Since Cynthia's graduation from college in Missouri, she has done extensive independent study in the art field, taking art lessons from a variety of instructors, and touring art museums around the world, to broaden her knowledge of the visual arts. She is now putting all that knowledge to good use as a volunteer at the museum. I felt VERY FORTUNATE to be getting a one-on-one tour of Crystal Bridges by someone with such a great background in art, plus someone who knew their way around the maze of galleries!

Cynthia even showed me the "behind the scenes" area of Crystal Bridges where the volunteers have lockers, a kitchenette, tables, chairs, and cubicles. In this photo she is shown where the volunteers go to sign in for their "tour of duty".

As Cynthia was pointing out the unusual architecture of the Grand Hall (shown in this photo), I was reminded of another "architecture connection" (of sorts) that we had. The connection goes back to the time when Cynthia lived in a home in Harrison, designed by the world-famous, and award-winning architect, Fay Jones. The home was not the only thing designed by Fay Jones. He also designed a mail box to match the home. One cold and dark wintry night, my husband and I were leaving Cynthia's home in Harrison after a dinner party. We were in our very old, 4-wheel-drive, farm pickup, and we accidentally backed over, and on top of, that very expensive mail box!! The truck was high-centered on top of the mail box, with none of the wheels touching the ground! Hearing all the commotion, the other guests came outside. One of the guests, who was an attorney, gave my husband her business card, saying "He was going to need it, because he had just run over the most expensive mail box in all of Boone County!" Remembering this bit of history of our past friendship, made me ESPECIALLY thankful that Cynthia would take the time to show me around!

This colonnade of glass and metal leads to the Grand Hall. Through the full-length glass wall on the right, one can view the water feature, and the left side contains numerous meeting rooms available to the public for functions.

This art installation is a part of the special exhibit, called WONDER WORLD: Nature and Perception in Contemporary American Art. Cynthia said this part of the museum's collection seems to be of most interest to the younger visitors.
###Author's 2015 addendum to this photo:  When I was racking my brain, searching my mental "photo stock library" for an image that would help me memorize one of the verses for my First Place 4 Health Bible study ( ), this art installation from Crystal Bridges IMMEDIATELY came to mind!  The verse is from Isaiah 59:1 and says "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear."  Isn't it wonderful to know, that we have a direct conduit to God's ear---it's called prayer!!  ###

There are numerous seating areas throughout the galleries, where one could spend hours looking through the coffeetable art books laying around, or just enjoy gazing into the beautiful woodlands on the other side of the glass wall. Wifi is also available here and throughout the museum.

The first photos showed the area where one enters if coming by auto. This photo shows the paths one would come as a pedestrian (the museum is within walking distance from downtown Bentonville) or on the lovely bicycle trail available. They provide access to the lower level of the museum.

The brochure I picked up called "OUTSIDE" states "The grounds of the Museum are as much a part of the experience of Crystal Bridges as the art inside. Stewardship of our natural environment is a key element of Crystal Bridges' mission, and forms our overall philosophy---that art and nature are both vital to the human spirit, and should be accessible to all. More than three miles of trails invite you to explore and immerse yourself in the beauty of our native Ozark forest. Each trail offers different plant life, terrain, and ecosystems." As an added bonus, one can purchase a picnic lunch at the "Eleven" restaurant, and have an "Al fresco" dining experience!

The gray colors seen in the bark of the trees, the sidewalk, and building exterior, illustrate the developer's attempt to minimize human impact on the natural colors of the landscape.

Cynthia told me that one of the most frequently asked questions to the volunteers is "Where is Rosie?" By this, they mean, "Where is Norman Rockwell's WWII-era painting of Rosie the Riveter?" Well, here she is, in front of Ol' Glory! If you have read this far, you may be curious about what the admission fee is to go into the museum or view the outdoor sculptures along the trails. The answer is---it is free!!! Thanks to a $20 million gift from the WalMart Family Foundation, everyone has free admission for the foreseeable future!! What a wonderful gift---all we have to do is accept it!! Likewise, as we are in the midst of the holiday season, it is time to remember that God has also given us a wonderful gift---his Son, Jesus Christ----all we have to do is accept it! ..................................... If you would like to start planning your visit to this outstanding new attraction or you are interested in being a museum volunteer, visit Miles of smiles! Tricia

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