THE CRYSTAL BRIDGES Museum of American Art was not part of my travel plans on this trip, but I found myself with a bit extra time on my way to Chicago that I decided to make a side trip to visit it.
To get there from Little Rock, I took some back roads through the Ozarks. Fortunately, by the time I got to the mountains, the rain had disappeared so I was able to enjoy the scenery without having to worry about wet roads.
I worried whether it was a good idea to go through that part of the state with a Clinton bumper sticker on my back window, but then I figured that the folks there had probably never seen or heard of the design, the white H with a superimposed red arrow on a blue background.
I did what I often do when I’m out riding through beautiful countryside on a beautiful day. I rolled down my windows, pulled back the moon roof and listened to the CD, “The Movies Go to the Opera” full blast. This is the record that first got me interested in opera. It features all the great favorites, among them Nessun Dorma (Turandot), O Mio Babbino Caro (Gianni Schicchi), Quando men vo (La Boheme), Une Bel Di (Madama Butterfly), and of course, The Ride of The Valkyries (Die Walkürie).
I tell you, there is no greater experience than the rush you get from listening to that music, as loud as you can stand it, as you maneuver around sharp curves and zip up and down those lush hills. Unfortunately, I was so much into the music that I missed a turn and ended up getting very lost as I got close to Fayetteville. It took me a while to get back on the right route, and by the time I got to Bentenville, where the museum is, I was exhausted.
I’M GLAD I decided to visit the museum, though. It’s a beautiful complex. Striking architecture in a beautiful green setting. Very peaceful. The art is good also, especially the works in its 20th Century galleries. I’m not that fond of older art so I didn’t spend much time in the rest of the exhibit areas, but I loved walking through them, taking in the beautiful design.
The museum is the brainchild of Alice Walton, one of the children of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. She bought all the art and then decided to build a museum in her hometown to house all the works she had amassed. The money for the museum, of course, came from the immense Walton family fortune.
As I said, I enjoyed the museum and I am damn glad that that is there for everyone to enjoy (admission is free, courtesy of Wal-Mart, as the signs and literature tell us). But as I walked through its galleries, I couldn’t help wonder how many hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart employees worked how many thousands of hours, earning minimum wage with no health-care and other benefits, and no union representation, so that the Waltons could amass the fortune that allows them to be so generous.
It would have nice to see some mention of these people somewhere in the museum.