Though it was fine when we left Little Rock this morning, it was overcast and we thought it must have rained overnight judging from the puddles here and there. As we crossed the Arkansas River, the sky didn’t look so promising.
We’d started out on our usual ordinary roads, avoiding the Interstate highways and taking the slow route. But after a couple of hours with not very much to see, we wondered if we might move over onto the interstate and just get to Fayetteville sooner.
Whilst on our last cruise, we’d enjoyed dinner with a couple from around here who had told us about the Crystal Bridges Gallery. Though we had kept it in mind, it was slightly out of our way but bearing in mind the weather, we decided to hit the interstate and head right on past Fayetteville to Bentonville.
The Ozarks looked interesting, but we’ll have time tomorrow to explore further and hopefully, the sun will shine again.
So, Bentonville, here we come.
Needless to say, on this rainy day we weren’t the only people to have thought of coming here. Right from the get go, however, we noted that this was not your usual gallery crowd. Here were extended families, groups of teenagers and couples with young children.
Come on in y’all.
To begin with, the gallery looked and felt much like any other. The nineteenth century collection was the usual bunch of portraits and sculpture and though some stopped for a closer look, most visitors passed right on through.
One new acquisition was spotlighted here in an alcove – Jasper Johns created this work by painting encaustic wax onto a silk flag. It was well explained in the notes alongside, with a good explanation of why the artist chose to work in this medium. By highlighting a single work and offering a straightforward explanation for it, our attention had been grabbed. A good start!
Though we were interested generally and weren’t simply seeking out particular favourites, needless to say, we picked out a few. I liked this one of a Brooklyn street scene by Francis Guy – the intersection of Front, James and Fulton Streets in the 19th century. I’d say it’s changed a little in the intervening years!
I liked this portrait of the Embroideress by Gari Melchers too. How unusual to see a piece of needlework held so casually in a portrait.
How well the artist captured the details too – the lacing of the fabric onto the stretcher frame, and the needle and thread in the hand. The lace isn’t half bad either!
We giggled at this painting, entitled “the song”. One woman is sitting at the piano whilst the other sits with her head in her hand with the most desperate expression on her face. We could only think that the song wasn’t exactly that tuneful!
Just around the corner was an activity station – a couple of still life arrangements were set up and these youngsters were having a go at creating some art. All the materials were there, there were plenty of encouraging suggestions and it was clearly inspiring some visitors to pick up a paintbrush.
I have never seen someone so young sit quietly drawing, quite independently in a corner of a gallery. What a great place!
I’d noticed ipads around the place, tethered to the wall in some corners, inviting visitors to take a closer look. Here was another such invitation to get involved in some way with the art.
The architect of the gallery had designed the place on several levels and turning right to descend a few steps in a curved corner, I noted the words on the floor “watch your step”. Well, yes…why might I need a reminder? The answer was above me – a series of hooks on the curved wall and a track on the straight side opposite was threaded with some fine thread in a rainbow of colour.
Lit from above, the interference patterns were beautiful and of course, people were looking up at it and perhaps, not taking care on the steps as they should.
The effect was quite stunning. Gentle and rather lovely. Simple but effective. Clever.
A look outside through a floor to ceiling window confirmed that yes, it was still raining.
At the end of this walkway, on a plain white wall and lit from several directions was this wreath.
Simple materials, beautifully constructed and so very regular in shape. I loved it! It looks so soft and yet it’s made from rough, steel wire. Good contrast.
It was the first of the late twentieth century pieces, where the work of a few more familiar artists to us were to be found. We recognised work by Norman Rockwell, Mark Rothko and Georgia O’Keeffe immediately and then felt pleased to recognise that of Andrew Wyeth too (spotting the “wind” aspect of his work which we encountered in Washington last year)
But it was perhaps this picture which encapsulates the gallery for me. The figure of the elderly man was in the “hyperrealism” section of the gallery and the father and son (aged about 10 or 11) who stood looking and talking about it were exactly the visitors I was referring to when I noted our observation about it “not being the normal gallery crowd”. The two were talking about the figure, the boy was wondering if real hair had been used and having chatted about it a while, they stood back and just looked, quietly, each in their own thoughts.
If a gallery can inspire the “dads and lads” not only to visit, but to look and talk about art, then I think it’s doing something rather clever. Full marks, Crystal Bridges, then for making a great collection of art so accessible!
Having dropped our bags off at the hotel, we followed the recommendation of the guy in the Fayetteville Information Centre and headed to Hugo’s for a burger before paying a visit to the the #3 bookstore in the USA according to….sorry, we can’t remember!
When we switched the TV on this evening, there was a “flash flood” warning tickertape running at the top of the screen. Hopefully, nowhere near here – but it is still raining…