The Crystal Bridges Museum is one of my favorite museums because 1) it’s FREE, 2) there's so much to explore and 3) it is beautifully designed. I visited the museum last year on my short visit to Bentonville, but didn't get to experience all it had to offer as I was limited on time. This year when I visited Bentonville again, I had the whole Saturday just to explore Crystal Bridges and see the museum in it's entirety, indoors and outdoors.
The architecture of this museum is a work of art in itself and designed by the internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie. There are many parts of this museum to explore: the indoor museum, the exhibits (at the time we visited, Chihuly's collection was being shown), a library, children's playroom, gift shop, Frank Lloyd Wright's Bachman-Wilson House and outdoor nature trails. They also offer various free guided drop-in tours daily.
We started exploring the outdoor nature trails first and grabbed a map indoors before heading out. There are several trails to explore and more than 3.5 miles of trails wind through the 120-acre site. This was the prefect introduction to see the beauty of the Ozark landscape. As Chihuly's collection was on display at the time we visited, the first thing we encountered was Chihuly's Niijima Floats floating in the pond. It was a beautiful display of colorful blown glass surrounded by nature.
As we continued walking the immaculate grounds, we came across several other sculptures and stopped at a shaded area with a small stream of water. We took off our sandals and cooled down a bit as we walked around in the refreshing cold water.
We also stopped by Frank Lloyd Wright's Bachman-Wilson House, but only viewed the house from outside as you had to have reservations to view the inside of the house. For those that don't know Frank Lloyd Wright, he was a great American architect and designer who believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. His most famous work resides in New York at the The Guggenheim Museum with the iconic swirling geometric masterpiece.
After walking the trails for a couple of hours, we were famished and ready for lunch. The museum's restaurant, Eleven, is a gorgeous space with arched ceilings and soaring windows overlooking the museum's ponds and forests. During the day, Eleven is a quick-service restaurant and at dinner, the menu totally changes and is a more fine dining sit-down service restaurant.
They had a small lunch menu offering salads, burgers and sandwiches. We shared a yummy plate of Vietnamese Noodle Salad and it was a bit on the spicy side; however, not the kind that burns your mouth, but just a touch to leave you wanting more. Interesting fact: the restaurant got it's name Eleven from the museum's grand opening date of 11/11/11.
After lunch, we made our way to the museum's library. I don't think we've ever visited a library within a museum, but when we picked up a brochure and saw that there was a library, we had to go check it out. I was imagining a tiny library with a few hundred books, but was amazed with the amount of books they had when we entered.
The library was located upstairs and it features more than 50,000 volumes pertaining to American art and art history. We walked around browsing some books and the friendly librarian even helped us learn a little more about the artists Roy Lichtenstein and John Singer Sargent. It's a gorgeous space to relax in or focus on your studies. If I lived in Bentonville, I'd be here every weekend.
We headed back downstairs to the main art museum focusing on American Art. The first section is filled with paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries. The next section is the contemporary and modern art collection. We both tend to enjoy contemporary art more as the artists' way of thinking is totally different from the traditional paintings in frames from the olden days. They use 3D art, abstract forms, materials and such to create something uniquely interesting and Crystal Bridges is full of these types of art.
At one point, we stumbled into the family area where you can drop-in at any time between 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm and participate in some fun art-making. They host an array of events, so if you have family, we recommend checking out their schedule of events. There was this entertaining corner of a mini puppetry theater where a few kids where performing their own plays. The last time we saw a puppetry show was years ago at a bar in Pensacola, Florida.
Even though we spent most of our Saturday here, we still missed a few things on the nature trail that I wanted to see. A couple of them were under maintenance, so I will have to check those out for next time. I hope to see more new collections of contemporary art as well.
- To avoid the crowds, weekdays are much more calm with plenty of parking near the entrance.
- Bring bottled water if you plan on walking the trails outdoors.
- Wear comfy shoes to explore the outdoor grounds and trails.
- You cannot carry a backpack into the indoor museum, but the museum offers free lockers where you can store your belongings.
- Photography is permitted at the indoor museum; however, flash photography is prohibited. We recommend learning how to use your camera without flash to capture stunning images.