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Off to Bentonville, Arkansas

LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 8/23/2012, 4:45 p.m.

Architectural and artistic genius

The architectural design created by Safdie is awe-inspiring, encompassing two suspended cable and wood structures across a ravine that look like massive, bronze footballs. Their positioning is at opposite ends of one of the two ponds and they also function as dams over the ravine. The Great Hall here is a third of the stunning structures, used as a multipurpose public space.

Once inside, the first thing to catch my eye was, believe it or not, the ebullient docents wearing casual khaki-colored pants, long-sleeved white shirts and avocado-hued ties, which exuded a relaxing, very welcoming yet still professional ambiance that really let us know we were in for a very different museum experience.

The architecture here is simply amazing at every turn: countless floor-to-ceiling glass walls revealing the interior and outdoor walkways, ponds, landscaping and adjacent structures; grand ceiling heights; expansive exhibit spaces; and striking solid and contrasting paint hues.

One of the most appealing aspects is the gracefully curvilinear walls in some of the galleries, which lend to a feeling of movement as you move among the fabulous works of art, allowing visitors to gain a much different view and introspection than simply looking at a work head-on.

The museum's focus is on American masterworks, reflected in its permanent collection spanning five centuries from the Colonial era to the present day, and a large number of its holdings are from the personal collection of Alice Walker, who is passionate about preserving art that depicts our America.

Contemporary works exhibited here include those of Georgia O'Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Asher B. Durand and Kerry James Marshall, among numerous others.

Walton is so passionate and committed to the educational and cultural development of northwest Arkansas and to exposing people to great American artworks that the museum is free, making it accessible to all who want to learn, explore and enjoy.

Time for a Nosh

In a glass-enclosed bridge overlooking the ponds, you'll find Eleven, the museum's coffee bar and in-house, casual, order-at-the-counter cafe at lunch and upscale restaurant at night.

Again, unlike your typical museum cafe-restaurants, the cuisine here is a step above--fresh, wholesome and innovative, encompassing Midwestern and Southern comfort food specialties created with produce and other items from local farmers and food artisans.

Among the many savory and delectable items on the menu are an award-winning chicken salad sandwich, beans and cornbread, an Ozark-style margherita pizza, shrimp and grits (this dish was delicious!), a variety of tasty salads, pan-roasted salmon, a beef filet, burgers and a handful of vegan dishes. If you care to enjoy a meal on the grounds instead, picnic lunches are available seasonally as well.

This is just the beginning of our exploration of Bentonville, Ark. And there are so many more exciting things to come.

Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at lallmanbaldwin@kc.rr.com.

Resource List

  • Bentonville Convention & Visitors Bureau: 479-271-9153, www.bentonville.org
  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art: 479-418-5700, www.crystalbridges.org
  • Eleven Restaurant at the Crystal Bridges Museum: 479-418-5700