November 9, 2011 / 3:29 PM / 6 years ago

U.S. heiress brings art to Middle America

BENTONVILLE, Ark (Reuters) - The heiress daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton is bringing art to Middle America when she opens a new museum this week featuring an immense collection of American art.

The 217,000-square-foot Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will be located in the small town of Bentonville in northwest Arkansas, which is the headquarters of Wal-Mart.

Alice Walton, the 62-year-old billionaire heiress splits her time between Bentonville and her Texas ranch.

“Alice Walton could have chosen to go anywhere in the world with her museum but she gave the city of Bentonville a gift,” Mayor Bob McCaslin told Reuters.

The museum’s 12 spacious galleries will house more than 400 pieces of art.

“You walk through history as you would through the art, as it is told chronologically,” said David Houston, director of curatorial for the museum. “It tells American history from wars to peaceful times through art themes such as landscapes, mythology, portraits and even sculpture.”

Boston architect Moshe Safdie designed the museum, a wood and glass creation of bridges nestled in 120-acres of woodlands.

“Many of the people who will visit may have never been to a major museum,” said Houston. “We wanted to make it accessible to people with large, open spaces, have simple information about the art and for the museum to have a focus, which is the story of America.”

Among the many works of art are portraits of George Washington, photogravures of Edward Sheriff Curtis’ photographs of Native Americans and the American West from the early 1900s, George Wesley Bellows’ “Excavation at Night,” which shows the darkness of industrialization and Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter.”

Examples of abstract Expressionism, pop art, minimalism, and New American realism will also be displayed along with one of the most talked-about pieces, Andy Warhol’s 1985 “Dolly Parton.”

Admission is free, thanks to a $20 million grant from Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private employer and retailer.

Little Rock mother Sylvia Blain said she can’t wait to make the three-hour drive to show her two sons the museum.

“I am excited to have a collection of this magnitude and importance in Arkansas,” said Blain. “It will allow my kids an opportunity to be exposed to a world of art they may not have had the opportunity to see otherwise.”

The city has been preparing for the museum since 2005, when Walton announced her project.

Many of the museum’s works, Houston said, were in private collections and bought either at auction or from the seller directly. Other pieces have been acquired from museum and university collections.

Arkansas artist James Hayes said the state was fortunate that Walton, who has collected art for years, had the vision and means to bring a world-class facility to the state.

“No longer will people in our area be forced to travel to a large city, or out of the country, to see a masterpiece,” he said.

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