Chihuly in the Forest and American art at Crystal Bridges Museum


While in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, last weekend, my husband and I drove to nearby Bentonville to see the remarkable collection of American art at Crystal Bridges Museum. The museum is surrounded by pleasant walking trails, and an exhibit of Chihuly glass sculptures, Chihuly in the Forest, was ongoing (it ends November 27).

Naturally, I had to see it.


The museum sits down in a hollow, encircled by wooded hills. A steel and glass elevator takes you up to the start of the Chihuly trail.


The first sculpture, Boathouse 7 Neon, a composition of brightly colored and wavy glass tubes, put me in mind of someone who stuck their finger in an electrical outlet.


The colorful trees were electric too.


The mellow autumn sunlight illuminated the glass until they seemed to glow from within. Here’s Turquoise Reeds and Ozark Fiori.


This sculpture jumps over the path and continues along a creek bed.


Neodymium Reeds, luminescent and seeming to grow from mossy old logs


Glowing trees of gold…


…and crimson


The big daddy of any Chihuly exhibit is always a sun sculpture. Here’s Sole d’Oro, or Golden Sun.


The gold glass pieces pick up the color of the surrounding trees.


Next we saw Belugas, which look like balloons to me…


…although certain ones do have a dolphin-like quality.


They rose from a bed of ferns.


Red tree with a glimpse of Turquoise Reeds in the distance


The way Red Reeds was stacked reminds me of old split-rail fences from the Civil War era, with their diagonal bracing.


A walk in the woods


Boats are also a popular Chihuly element. Here’s Fiori Boat, which means Flower Boat. I also admired the ‘Blue Zinger’ sedge planted around it.


I’ve seen Chihuly exhibits before, at Dallas Arboretum and Desert Botanical Garden, but this was the first time along a forest trail. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the glass amid natural scenery, especially with the fall foliage of late October.


Before I show you the museum itself, let’s explore the inside of Fly’s Eye Dome by American designer and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller, one of many interesting sculptural and architectural pieces on the museum grounds.


The circles in the dome made spotlights on the ground.


Golden trees glowed against the blue sky, framed in those circles — cool!


The museum itself is spectacular. You drop down into it from the glass-walled parking-garage elevator with a view of a spooky and monumental black spider in the open courtyard below.


It’s titled Maman, or Mother. Hmm.


For the artist, Louise Bourgeois, envisioning her mother as a spider was not a negative statement.

“Art, like the beauty of our natural world, should be accessible to everyone.”


From that dramatic entrance, the design of the museum itself is wonderful. A series of organically shaped, “floating” pods set in a small lake and surrounded by the Ozark hills, the buildings look like glass-walled, covered bridges, from which I assume the name Crystal Bridges arose. If you’re interested in how the architect, Moshe Safdie, came up with the unique design of the buildings (they reference swinging — i.e., suspension — bridges common in Arkansas) and tucked them down in a ravine rather than putting them up top for a commanding view, watch a series of engaging videos of Safdie in conversation with founder Alice Walton.


Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, who grew up here, loving art but with no access to museums, founded Crystal Bridges to bring great American art home to her people and her region. General admission to the museum is always free, thanks to a grant by Wal-Mart. I’m no Wal-Mart fan, but I think that’s wonderful — a tremendous gift to the people of Arkansas and especially tiny Bentonville, and to the country as well.


To me, the museum’s founding is a heartening story about investing in the place you love:

A long-time art lover and collector, Ms. Walton conceived the idea of creating a national art museum in her hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas, so that people of the region would have ready access to great works of art. She planned to build the museum on a 120-acre stretch of natural Ozark forest that had belonged to her family for many years. The land had special meaning to Alice and her brothers, who had played together in these woods as children; and it was important to the family that the land’s natural character be maintained. Alice presented her idea to the Walton Family Foundation, who agreed to fund the project.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is the first national museum dedicated to the work of American artists in more than a generation. By design, Crystal Bridges is a wholly remarkable museum: in its collection, which spans five centuries of American art; in its dramatic architecture; in its lush natural setting; and in its geographical location in the heart of the country, far from any coastal metropolis.

These elements alone make the Museum distinctive among its peers, but the spirit of Crystal Bridges runs deeper than these outward emblems. From its beginning, Crystal Bridges has been guided by certain key principles: the Museum offers the finest examples of American art available, and holds education at the very core of our mission, and strives to be a welcoming and inspirational place for everyone.

This last is one of the reasons it was essential that Crystal Bridges be located here, in Bentonville, Arkansas, surrounded by the beautiful Ozark landscape, where the citizens of our region — for whom most of the country’s finest museums are hundreds of miles away — can experience great works of art as part of their everyday lives, and where visitors from anywhere in the world can enjoy American art amid the beauty of the American landscape. At Crystal Bridges, we share a belief that art is at the center of what it means to be human. Art, like the beauty of our natural world, should be accessible to everyone.


I couldn’t agree more. Here’s the museum’s restaurant, Eleven (a reference to the museum’s founding date on 11/11/11), a lovely space.


And here’s a small sampling of the art, pieces that were particularly eye-catching to me among many much more famous pieces. This is a jazzy Stuart Davis painting from a special exhibit of his work.


Exquisite paintings from Martin Johnson Heade’s The Gems of Brazil series — Hooded Visorbearer


…and Blue Morpho Butterfly.


Luigi Lucioni’s richly colored and intense Portrait of Bob


And Andy Warhol’s Endangered Species series


We had a great visit to Crystal Bridges and could easily spend another day there to see everything. We’ll definitely be back one day.

For a look back at our visit to nearby Eureka Springs, Arkansas, including beautiful Thorncrown Chapel, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Visit to Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Japanese Garden


Although I’ve been to Dallas and its well-known public garden many times, until last weekend I’d never visited the botanical garden in nearby Fort Worth, just 45 minutes to the west. While not showy like Dallas Arboretum, Fort Worth Botanic Garden is a pleasant place to stroll amid perennial gardens, arbors and gazebos (likely popular with wedding parties), and woodsy trails.

On this early October day, monarchs were passing through, fueling up for their journey to Mexico.


I’d never seen this type of big, golden bee before. When I posted a picture on Instagram, a reader identified as possibly a male valley carpenter bee. That’s esperanza (Tecoma stans) he’s enjoying.


Orange and pink hibiscus adds tropical color.


Fluffy, cotton-candy wisps of our native Gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) were catching the light.


Another native plant, fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), was a hit with honeybees.


This massive arbor, with a rough-cut tree trunk serving as the top rail, is a striking portal.


The real attraction of the garden, however, is the Fort Worth Japanese Garden, which has a separate parking area and an entry fee (the main garden is free). The entry tower, pictured here, makes an impressive gateway into the garden.


Roofed arbors beckon you further into the 7.5-acre garden.


The garden was constructed in 1973, and while the first part with a large wooden pavilion around a zen garden (not pictured) has a somewhat dated feel, it’s neatly kept. I especially enjoyed the main part of the garden, which is a strolling garden built around a large pond (see below).


It’s certainly not as crowded as other Japanese gardens I’ve visited, like Portland Japanese Garden, and it’s a pleasant place to spend an hour or more in leisurely enjoyment of the outdoors, with some very nice Japanese-style structures and garden art.


I like this somewhat contemporary pagoda sculpture.


Coming around a bend in the path, this was a fun surprise: a trio of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys on stone steps leading nowhere.


A large pond occupies the central part of the garden, with a winding path leading around it and offering scenic views like this arching moon bridge.


This small gazebo perches at the water’s edge amid a scrim of Japanese maples.


Lacy leaves of Japanese maples overhead.


Koi followed us around the pond like hungry pups waiting for a handout. The garden sells fish food, and many visitors were delighting in feeding the colorful fish.


Look at those open mouths!


Whoa! This big boy could practically swallow your arm.


Decks like this one offer up-close pond-viewing places.


Beautiful bark on what my friend Diana identified as an elm tree.


A pretty teahouse seems to float over the pond, framed by bald cypress and pine trees.


Heading around to the gazebo


Stone lantern


The very earliest Japanese maples were beginning to turn.


Such beautiful fall color — and unexpected. I thought we’d be too early for it.


I’ve always liked bamboo-and-basin fountains like this.


A “floating” path of stepping stones attracts adventurous and sure-footed explorers.


Another deck offering a scenic spot to enjoy the pond.


A flaming red and orange Japanese maple attracted my eye — so beautiful against a clear blue sky.


Climbing up the slope we found a large elevated deck and a cluster of roofed shelters that seemed meant for weddings or other events. With their sharply peaked roofs and cross designs, they almost seem Scandinavian, don’t they?


Back on the main path, I spotted palmettos along a stream with a small waterfall…


…and enjoyed a new view of the moon bridge.


More decks


A tricolored heron (as a fellow photographer ID’d it) was fishing for minnows swarming around a mess of fish food that had been tossed in the pond.


I stopped to watch him for about 15 minutes as he inched toward the water…


…stretched out his neck…


…and struck!


He was an effective fisherman.


A fellow fisherman got in his way a few times: a long water snake that coiled and flashed through the water in pursuit of minnows. I was amazed how many passersby were afraid when they saw it, sure it was a water moccasin that would leap out to get them. But no, it was nonvenomous and just wanted a fishy meal.


This lovely wooden pagoda near the exit stands about 20 feet tall.


A nicely designed gift shop beckons near the exit…


…its porch framing a view of a young ginkgo in golden fall glory.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Don’t miss the Austin Open Days garden tour sponsored by the Garden Conservancy on November 4.

Join the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks! Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by inspiring designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Sunny day at Portland Japanese Garden


A trip to Portland, Oregon, wouldn’t be complete without seeing the city’s luminous Japanese garden. During our mid-August visit, we had to try twice because the first time, on a Sunday afternoon, we simply could not find any parking, even after circling for a half hour. Even on Monday at midday we waited in line 25 minutes at the admission booth to get in. This is a popular garden, y’all. (And at $14.95 a ticket, it isn’t cheap either, plus no reciprocal admissions.)


But for all that, Portland Japanese Garden is lovely indeed and well worth a visit.


Once you get past the entry hassles, you can relax and enjoy the serenity of the ponds, moss and gravel gardens, and light-filtering leaves overhead.


A zigzagging wooden bridge across a koi pond is a popular spot for visitors.


Colorful koi make their own fishy paths alongside the bridge.


We always make a game of trying to pick our favorite color patterns.


Spanning a larger pond, a gently arching bridge offers pretty views — and becomes one itself.


Nearby, a roofed gate leads from the sunny pond area into…


…a shady tea garden, framed here by a window on the tea house terrace.


The Natural Garden may be my favorite area. It’s tranquil and shady, and narrow winding paths lead you past ponds…


…and down a magical stone stair…


…through a glowing mossy hillside.


At the base of the stair, a diamond-in-a-square stone basin gracefully accepts a trickle from a bamboo fountain.


I love this.


Backlit maple leaves make a green canopy.


A board-and-slat fence opens under a rectangular arbor to invite you along a streamside stone path.


At the garden’s lowest point, a sheltered bench beckons…


…and frames a view.


A stone lantern leads the eye toward another stair.


Time to climb back up.


Midway up the hill, a karesansui garden appears, with stones set in rippled gravel that represent the Buddha (the tall stone) and a starving tigress and her cubs, for whom he sacrifices himself in an act of compassion.


Stone pagoda and luminescent trees


Another gravel garden, called the Flat Garden, extends just off the veranda of a large pavilion. Gravel waves ripple against mossy islands while carefully clipped trees and shrubs across the “sea” represent a distant shoreline.


The glare from all that white gravel reminds me that I’d love to see Portland Japanese Garden, and especially this space, in the gentler light of a different season. I’ve visited three times, always on a bright summer’s day. I long to visit on a misty autumn morning — check out Scott’s extraordinary photos from October 2013. Travel goals! And, heck, photography goals.


Inside the pavilion, an exhibit of Kabuki costumes was on view. Kabuki is classical Japanese dance-drama with all-male performers who wear elaborate makeup and costumes.


The exhibit, which ended earlier this month, “explore[d] the flamboyant and fanciful traditional performing art of Kabuki through an exhibition of seven authentic costumes on loan from Japan.”


Ironically, although Kabuki was created and popularized by a woman in the early 1600s, the shogunate later banned women from the stage to “protect the public morality,” leaving the stage to men — a tradition that continues to this day.


I wish I’d taken pictures of the new Cultural Village buildings near the entry, which opened this spring. But for some reason I didn’t, even though we admired the acclaimed contemporary architecture. I did take a couple of photos of the bonsai displayed outside, including this Ezo spruce…


…and Japanese maple. Lovely!


As is the whole garden. One day, though, I’m going to have to see this garden in the fall.

Up next: Sunset over the Pacific at Cannon Beach, my final post from our CA/OR road trip. For a look back at Portland’s boutique nursery Thicket, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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