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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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

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.

Casa Mariposa, Virginia winery, & Merrifield Garden Center: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling

Casa Mariposa

With a garden called Casa Mariposa, you know it’s going to be welcoming to butterflies — and, as it turns out, all pollinators. Tammy Schmitt, head planner of this year’s Garden Bloggers Fling, bravely included her suburban D.C.-area garden on the tour. I say bravely because planning a Fling requires a LOT of time and effort, which only ratchets up in the weeks just before the event. To find time to tidy and fluff one’s own garden in preparation for 100 visitors, all the while making sure everything else is running smoothly, is impressive. I suspect Tammy does not sleep.


Tammy welcomes not just pollinators but human visitors with a whimsical, ribbon-like arbor over her back gate. I didn’t stop to see how she made this, so I’m hoping she’ll chime in on the comments and let us know. Update: Tammy shared her DIY method with me:

“It’s four threaded rods with couplers at the end that fit into an elbow joint that form the ‘Suburban Gothic’ arch. One end of each rod is sunk into the ground about a foot. The lightweight plastic tubing provides more surface area for the vines to cling to, as does the dead wood from the invasive honeysuckle whose roots I dug out after cutting the main stem. Hops and cup and saucer vine are climbing each side. It should be covered by the end of July. This is my own crazy design to solve the problem of ‘I want an arbor but don’t have any room.'”


You walk through into a floral exuberance of coneflowers, daylilies, verbena, zinnias, and more — anything that a butterfly, bee, or other pollinator might find attractive.


See?


Of course, these flowers attract the human eye too.


And gnomes! I think this pretty flower is Rudbeckia ‘Solar Eclipse’ — correction ‘Denver Daisy’. It definitely has wow power.

Stone Tower Winery


On this day, we were bused into northern Virginia’s rolling wine and horse country, and we stopped at a local winery for a catered lunch. Stone Tower Winery sits on a hilltop overlooking fields of grapes and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the hazy distance.


A group of Austin bloggers posed here for a photo: first-time Flinger Cat of The Whimsical Gardener, Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden, yours truly, and Laura of Wills Family Acres.


Turning around to face the winery, you can see how busy it was, with lots of lunching and wine tasting happening on multiple patios. Bloggers here include new friend Diana Stoll of Garden With Diana and Houstonian Shawn Schlachter of Ravenscourt Gardens, plus Laura, Diana, and Cat.


It was an appealing spot for selfies, even unintentionally goofy ones (thanks, Cat).


I like this one of Diana and Cat relaxing on the bus en route to our next destination.

Merrifield Garden Center


One of those destinations was Merrifield Garden Center in Gainesville, Virginia, which generously put out this delicious spread for us. How nice!


The place is enormous, with lots of garden decor and gift items, like these cactus-themed botanical pillows…


…and charming sun ornaments by Elizabeth Keith Designs (not blazing-hot Death Stars by any stretch), not to mention more plants than you can shake a stick at. After we’d noshed and made our purchases, we were back on the buses and ready for more gardens.

Up next: The beautifully delineated garden rooms of designer Scott Brinitzer. For a look back at the colorful and plant-rich garden of Viginia designer Linda Hostetler, 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 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.

Bald cypress creek, beer patios, & other comforts in Comfort, Texas


For our 27th wedding anniversary last weekend, my husband and I enjoyed a weekend away in Comfort, Texas, a tiny Hill Country town two hours southwest of Austin. After reading about the stylishly rustic charms of Camp Comfort in seemingly every regional magazine (Tribeza, Southern Living, Texas Monthly), I’d booked us a room for two nights over Memorial Day weekend.


Camp Comfort is an utterly charming B&B, built motel-style in what was formerly a 2-lane bowling alley and social hall dating to 1860, plus several freestanding cabins.


A row of 4 rooms occupies what used to be the bowling alley, and the cabins cluster at the far end…


…overlooking a scenic view of Cypress Creek.


The restored social hall contains a servery for help-yourself breakfast, free cookies all day, and plentiful seating…


…each table adorned with a bouquet of fluffy cotton stems.


A couch and chairs at one end is flanked by a triangular shelf stacked with board games for old-school entertainment.


The owners constructed the shelves, and for that matter the guest rooms’ floors, walls, and doors, from wood salvaged from the bowling alley.


The place seems tailor-made to be rented out in full by wedding parties, and one such newlywed couple had written their thanks to the owners on a roll of paper towels by the door.


The rooms and cabins surround a spacious gravel courtyard outfitted for lounging and parties with a fire pit, orange Loll chairs, a grilling and dining area under a vine-shaded arbor…


…and a band stage.


We stayed in room #3.


Inside, a photo of the social hall pre-transformation hung over the bed. Cushy, teal swivel chairs in front of a TV, a small kitchen, a desk, and a spacious bathroom with a soaker tub made up the lovely retreat.


The view from our room


The Texas flag painted on the back of a neighbor’s shed


We spent a lovely evening around the fire our first night, sipping champagne and talking with another couple from San Antonio who were celebrating a birthday.


We met Phil, who owns the place with his wife, and who did all the restoration and construction work himself, with his wife as the designer. He encouraged us to go for a swim in the creek behind the camp, and on the second day we did.


Cypress Creek is beautiful.


Towering bald cypresses line the creek like columns in a cathedral made by Mother Nature.


In the clear, green water we could see fish guarding their nests, cleared-out circles on the creekbed.


Aside from the fish, we had it all to ourselves, no one else around.


We waded into the chilly water alongside cypress toes, careful not to disturb the fish nests…


…and paddled among the trees to the swimming hole, which Phil had told us was 10 feet deep. It was magical.


The first night we enjoyed an excellent pizza at Comfort Pizza, where you have to call in advance to reserve your pizza dough. They only make so much each day, and if they run out you’re out of luck. One pizza is plenty for two, especially with a Greek side salad, which was also tasty. We washed it all down with Shiner Bock, a local beer. (I also highly recommend High’s Cafe for lunch, particularly the Veggie-licious with hummus instead of cream cheese, and 814 A Texas Bistro for dinner; be sure to make reservations.)


After dinner we strolled along High Street, Comfort’s quiet main street lined with well-preserved historic buildings occupied by a boutique hotel, antique stores, an art gallery, a yarn shop, and a refreshingly different elephant shop. Not a single T-shirt/postcard/fudge shop did I see.


Charming old homes and guest houses line the street as well, including one whose front fence was awash with garlands of hot-pink queen’s wreath vine, also known as coral vine (Antigonon leptopus).


I’d thought queen’s wreath bloomed only in late summer/early fall, so I was surprised to see it in full bloom in early summer.


A few tendrils had entwined into a green heart at the front gate, and we pretended it was just for our anniversary.


At Miss Giddy’s gift shop and nursery across the street from the pizza place, a garden of container-planted, colorful zinnias…


…was guarded by a friendly, sunflower-faced scarecrow.


A towering, dried agave bloom stalk stood in another part of the garden, its branches holding a collection of white birdhouses.


The road back to Camp Comfort took us by a pasture with grazing longhorns.


Back at our B&B, we enjoyed one more sunset along Cypress Creek.


What a beautiful place!

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

Calling all pond lovers! The Austin Pond & Garden Tour is coming up June 3rd (North Austin ponds and night pond) and 4th (South Austin ponds). Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased online and include entry to all 20 ponds.

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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