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Northwest Arkansas
Crystal Bridges
And Arkansas in Bloom

By Corinna Lothar

rkansas has shed its undeserved Dogpatch reputation. Northwest Arkansas has become prosperous, with a wealth of places of interest for tourists, and offering some of America's most beautiful nature, along with cultural events, and many craft and antique fairs. The new Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport serves as the gateway to Ozark towns and villages, such as Bentonville, home of Walmart, and Eureka Springs, as well as Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas.

Crystal Bridges

What has really put Northwest Arkansas on the American cultural map is the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, founded by Sam Walton's daughter, Alice, in Bentonville, and opened on November 11, 2011.

Alice Walton hired internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie, who envisioned a building that would complement the surrounding Ozark landscape. Nestled into a natural ravine, the Museum integrates the element of water through the creation of two spring-fed ponds that are spanned by two bridges and surrounded by a group of buildings housing museum galleries and studios. Mrs. Walton named her museum Crystal Bridges – "crystal" for the name of the natural spring on the site, and "bridges" for the bridges built over the meandering water running through the property. It's a beautiful place, inside the buildings and in the rolling landscape outside.

the Eleven Restaurant at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
One of Crystal Bridges buildings – the Eleven restaurant.

Along with outstanding examples of nineteenth century American painting, the museum has a fine collection of paintings and sculptures representing various schools of twentieth century art. The collection continues to grow, and there is always a temporary exhibit on show. The current temporary exhibit is State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now. It consists of 227 works by 102 unappreciated artists from all over the United States. Objects in the exhibit range from 3 inches to room size.

The museum's glassed-in Eleven Restaurant, with water on both sides, has a beautiful vaulted wooden roof in the middle of which hangs Jeff Koons' huge, 3000 pound golden heart, ten feet wide and dangling nine feet above the heads of diners. In the restaurant, guests can choose from a variety of sandwiches, salads and a few hot dishes for lunch daily, except on Tuesdays when the museum is closed, and dinner on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The park surrounding the museum is filled with trees, flowering plants and sculptures complementing the landscape. More than three miles of trails, each offering different plant life and terrain, meander through the Ozark forest and are open year round.

child playing on a sculpture at the park around the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Robert Indiana, "Love" (Cor-Ten steel)

Admission to the museum is free, and it has brought a sense of excitement to Bentonville and the surrounding communities. Programs and classes for adults and children are part of the lure, as are the temporary exhibits and concerts. Children, many of whom have never been to a museum, are bussed in from surrounding states.

Bentonville

statue of a Confederate soldier at Bentonville square
Bentonville Square with Confederate soldier

Bentonville itself is a lively small town, with a pretty square with a statue of a Confederate soldier in its center. The brick buildings encircling the square house shops, galleries, restaurants and the Walmart Visitors Center, located in Sam Walton's original Five and Dime store, established in 1950. The Visitors Center, which includes a gift shop, is a small museum of the Walmart history and Sam Walton's rise to fame and fortune. It includes cabinets filled with artifacts based on Walton's autobiography as well as interactive displays

Other sites of interest are The Peel Mansion and the Museum of Native Americans. The former is an 1875 Italianate villa built by Colonel Samuel Peel, the first native-born Arkansan to be elected to the United States Congress. On the site is a pre-Civil War log cabin, and an outdoor museum of heritage roses, perennials and native plants. The Museum of Native Americans begins its exhibition with Paleo objects through the Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian and Historic periods, including a large display of stone tools and arrowheads.

On the first Friday of every month, music, crafts and food take over the central square, which is home to an extensive farmers' market every Saturday morning. The First Fridays also include outdoor movies and musical entertainment. The town has a lively art scene, and there are murals to enjoy in the downtown area, many painted by Bentonville's children.

Bentonville's renaissance has brought about a flourishing of dining options and an "art" hotel. The 21C Museum boutique hotel opened in 2013. The hotel's special feature is contemporary art work throughout the public rooms, the outdoor spaces and the hallways. The art changes every six months. The rooms are very contemporary but with only a single reproduction on the walls. The real art is downstairs, as are the big green penguins that show up at odd times in odd places, including sometimes at your table in the dining room, the Hive, which offers diners a sophisticated meal of contemporary American dishes. A nature trail leads from the hotel through the Crystal Bridges Museum park to the entrance of the museum.

outdoor exhibit at the 21C Miuseum boutique hotel
Armando Marino, "The Raft" (wheel-less body of 1950 Plymouth supported by
Cuban legs "on the march")

Just down from the central square, the Tusk & Trotter is an informal restaurant, serving a variety of pork cuts, including fried pig ear chips, as well as traditional American dishes.

the Station Cafe at Bentonville
Breakfast at Bentonville's Station Cafe

For breakfast, the Station Cafe, owned like much in town by the Walmart Company, is the place to go. It's a folksy, colorful spot with early twentieth century decor, small booths with tables covered in checkered oilcloth, good coffee and fresh eggs.

There are half a dozen cafes on the square and on First Fridays, Bentonville celebrates with food trucks parked around the central square offering ethnic and American foods. At the end of the Walmart Center tour is an old fashioned soda fountain where a visitor can still get a heaping scoop of delicious ice cream for 99 cents.

A few miles east of Bentonville is Rogers, where the first Walmart store opened in 1962. Rogers is home of the Daisy Airgun Museum, which displays guns dating from 1888 to the present, including a World War II exhibit. Its gift shop sells limited edition guns. Rogers has a major indoor arts and crafts festival in the spring and in the fall in the Frisco Station Mall.

Between Rogers and Eureka Springs, just off Highway 12, is the War Eagle gristmill, built originally in 1832. Thrice destroyed, first by flood and then by fire, the mill was finally rebuilt in 1973 and is the only working mill in Arkansas. The mill is powered by an 18 foot cypress waterwheel.

The site is home to the War Eagle Craft and Culinary fair and the Sharp's Shaw fair that take place at the same time in early May and mid-October. Both feature crafts of all kinds, food and music, as well as antiques.

music at at the War Eagle Craft Fair
A little music at the War Eagle Craft Fair

Eureka Springs

Eureka Springs is a mountain town of some 2,000 inhabitants, many of them artists. The town's streets meander up and down the hills, never intersecting. They are lined with beautiful Victorian houses and cottages, many of which are bed and breakfast inns. Since its founding in 1879, the town has attracted tourists, initially for its healing spring water, and now for its shops and galleries offering the work of local artists and craftsmen and women. The healing spring waters were known to the American Indians long before the town's official founding.

Since Eureka Springs became a major tourist attraction in the Ozarks, the dining scene has become upscale and sophisticated. Perhaps the best restaurant in town is the Grand Taverne, located in the Grand Central Hotel. The restaurant has the atmosphere of an old Victorian establishment, but the cooking is sophisticated, contemporary American cuisine. The restaurant serves dinner only, and on weekends, dinner is accompanied by a pianist playing show tunes and popular songs of decades past.

Another excellent restaurant serving contemporary American cuisine at slightly lower prices for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, is Local Flavor. While Local Flavor doesn't have the charm of the Grand Taverne dining room, it serves food that's first rate. The restaurant is popular with locals and visitors alike and tends to have long waiting lists on weekends and for Sunday brunch.

dancers with flaming hoops in the Artrageous Parade
Dancers with flaming hoops in the Artrageous Parade

A delightful spot for breakfast, a 'burger or an afternoon drink is the balcony on the second floor of the 1905 Basin Park Hotel. On Fridays, a fish fry is served all day long. On one side of the balcony, guests have a perfect view of the shops on Spring Street, and the comings and goings on the street. On the side of the hotel facing Basin Spring Park, guests have a clear view of the little park and the spring that gives the town its name. Many events take place in the park.

A highlight of events is the early May, Eureka Springs' Artrageous parade when artists dance down Spring Street to everyone's delight. Locals and tourists line the streets to watch the costumed members of the artists' colony entertain the populace.

Another major attraction is the summer long Great Passion Play with its cast of 170 actors and dozens of live animals, but the town also offers music festivals, craft and antique fairs and even a summer Opera of the Ozarks, which produced Mozart, Puccini and Sondheim operas this past summer in the Fine Arts Center. Eureka Springs is also a good place to buy hand-made quilts; the Quilt Shop in the center of town has a large selection of beautiful (and expensive) hand sewn quilts.

The Crescent Hotel & Spa is Eureka Springs' grand old hotel, built in 1886. The renovated hotel has retained its 19th century character, including the 14 foot ceilings in the Crystal Ballroom, the elegant lobby and the verandas on which guests can enjoy the fresh Ozark air. The hotel is known as America's most haunted hotel and offers nightly ghost tours.

Roxy Paine's 'Yield,' a metal sculpture of a tree at the entrance of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville
Roxy Paine, "Yield" (stainless steel) at the entrance to the Crystal Bridges Museum

About three miles outside Eureka Springs en route back to the airport along Highway 62 is the Thorncrown Chapel, a magnificent wooden structure rising 48 feet up into the Ozark forest. The chapel contains 425 windows and over 6,000 feet of glass. It sits atop 100 tons of native stone and colored flagstone. The chapel, designed by Arkansas architect E. Fay Jones, a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright, was the dream of Jim Reed, who purchased the site with the intention of building his retirement home. Instead, he decided to give wayfarers a place to relax and enjoy the beautiful Ozark scenery. Don't miss it.

As for Dogpatch, it may still be on the map of Northwest Arkansas, but it never was a real place. Dogpatch was a themed amusement park, based on characters created by Al Capp in his "L'il Abner" comic strip. It opened in 1968, and closed in 1993. All that is left today are ruins with grasses growing and leaves blowing through the remnants. It never was the real Arkansas to begin with.

If You Go:

Crystal Bridges Museum

21C Museum Hotel

Bentonville

Craft Fairs

Eureka Springs

Thorncrown Chapel

Northwest Arkansas

Related Articles:
New Orleans, Louisiana; New Orleans: Where Anything Goes; Lexington, Kentucky; Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras; Soulful South Texas; St. Louis & Kansas City; Kansas Museums


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Let Corinna know what you think about her traveling adventure.

* * * * *

I found a Mich Goss J. Grassmayr Innsbruck bell with Jesus, a crucifix and a flower on it. Do you have any information about it you can share with me? Many thanks.

--- Liz, San Bernardino, CA

I don't have any information on that specific bell. If she wants information, "Liz" in San Bernardino should contact the factory. Here is the information: Address Grassmayr Foundry and Bell Museum, Leopoldstrasse 53, Inssbruck, A-6010 Austria. Telephone: 43 512-59416-0. Fax: 43 512-59416-22. E-mail: johannes@grassmayr.at or info@grassmayr.at.

Corinna



Been there -- thought I'd done it -- you proved me wrong. Great travel coverage -- even for those who have lived there.

--- Bill, Redmond, Oregon


Corinna, my dear,

What a wonderful series of words you have collected together to paint a mesmerizing story about one of my favorite places. Even though I've traversed these same locales as you many times, your delightful descriptions made me want to book a flight this very second and see again some of the places that time did not allow me to linger in before. Your photos are also riveting, and I loved the pantyhose one - what a clever, sexy way to promote that article of the female form. Your colorful words make the entire region literally come alive before my eyes - a rare gift for any writer! Bravo and again Congrats on your top notch feature. Best regards.

Best regards,

--- John C., Palos Verdes, CA


Hello Corinna,

This is very roundabout ... I was recently teaching (Legal Reasoning) in Kabul and encountered Ann Geracimos, who said she knows you from the Times. She recently provided me with an electronic version of your 2007 piece about returning to Frankfurt (which I enjoyed very much). Jonelle and I are well (and enjoying our 3 grandchildren, who live within blocks of our house). I hope you are well. I will now look for your travel writing regularly.

Best regards,

--- Howard De Nike - San Francisco, CA


What an amazing background Ms. Lothar has! I enjoyed her article very much. I found it to be quite intriguing, especially the interpreter school bit.

--- Melinda, Boise, ID


I loved your article on Metz.

I was an exchange student living there from 1981-1982 and have always felt like Lorraine was the most overlooked part of Europe.

You really captured the feel of the city with your photo and articles.

--- Al Stewart, Seattle, WA



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