Crystal Bridges: A Destination Not to be Missed

Out & About in Greater Tulsa By EMILY RAMSEY
Managing Editor

Top left: DEER SIGHTING: A white-tailed deer is alerted to visitors at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art along the walking trails.Top right: BENTONVILLE BEAUTY: The restaurant at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art sits near the main entrance to the museum. Crystal Bridges opened in 2011, with a suspension bridge building design.Bottom left: GLASS ART: During the summer months, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art welcomed the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly with special exhibition “Chihuly: In the Gallery + In the Forest.” Chihuly’s pieces were on display inside as well as outside.Bottom right: FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: One of the tours available at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is of a Frank Lloyd Wright home that was moved onto the museum grounds from New Jersey and reconstructed in 2015.

EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers

For a number of years, my sister lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, and, later, Redondo Beach, California.

As delighted as I was to have an excuse to visit these areas, I was also highly envious. Not only because my sister got to call these places her home but also because of the easy accessibility to so many other desirable locations. In just a couple of hours, she could be in Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe, San Diego, Las Vegas, Santa Fe.

While our part of the country may not boast quite the same availability of gorgeous destinations, choices for easy getaways to inspiring spots aren’t as minuscule as one might think.

A striking example of this is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. (Read about another example on page B5.)

While I love our local museums, I have been hearing for years about the splendor of Crystal Bridges and have been eager to visit.

The drive is a pleasant and manageable two hours from Tulsa, with many picturesque areas of tall rocky cliffs abutting the road and wide stretches of farm land.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Crystal Bridges upon arrival is the setting itself.
The museum sits on a 120-acre forest. Upon entering the grounds, it feels as if you are entering a wilderness, because, well, you are.

Crystal Bridges’ architect, Moshe Safdie, had the vision to set the museum in a ravine and build it into nature as opposed to above nature, noted my tour guide during a tour of the grounds.

The museum’s name has a twofold meaning: it pays homage to the natural spring, named Crystal Spring, on the property that feeds into the museum’s many ponds and to the suspension bridge construction that was incorporated into the building design.

Crystal Bridges was opened in 2011 by the Walton family. Because the museum is supported by Walmart, general admission to the museum and its grounds is free. The only cost is for special exhibitions.

Upon entering any museum, especially for the first time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, with so many areas to explore and exhibitions to view.

Crystal Bridges is no exception.

Yet, the staff members at the welcome desk do a nice job of quelling fears and organizing your day so as not to miss any desired activities.

They signed me up for tours of the museum and its grounds and of the Frank Lloyd Wright house, known as the Bachman-Wilson House, which is a most welcome addition to the museum’s offerings. The home was relocated from New Jersey and reconstructed at Crystal Bridges in 2015.

Later, I viewed glass work by Dale Chihuly, whose pieces were displayed both inside and outside as part of the special exhibition “Chihuly: In the Gallery + In the Forest.”

During my walk outdoors, I was treated to the sight of a family of white-tailed deer wandering unconcerned through the trees, nibbling on bushes and leaves. It was clear that the deer felt at home and at ease in those woods, the museum and its many guests doing nothing to cause them to want to leave.

Crystal Bridges features four miles of walking trails to explore, with art installations scattered along them. The museum’s permanent collection spans five centuries of American art from Colonial to current day.

Crystal Bridges left me feeling that I wasn’t just visiting a museum and its exhibits but “experiencing” them.

Truly, notable places and views can be found throughout the U.S., including many in the Midwest—though their fame may not be quite as widespread.

Considering the number of out-of-state visitors at Crystal Bridges, however, I dare say that secret has long been out. And for good reason.

Updated 09-18-2017

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