The Clinton Library, Little Rock’s River Market, Crystal Bridges Museum and more.
There is an actual little rock. As titular rocks go, it’s pretty small. Little Rock, AR gets its name from a hip-high chunk of rock on the south bank of the Arkansas River. It was a landmark for early river traffic and became a well-known crossing. Today, that riverfront is still a happening spot–there just happens to be more bikes and BBQ than boats.
The River Market District is the heart of Little Rock’s downtown scene with museums, bars and restaurants. An indoor market hall has food, music, art and farmer’s market. You should probably take a selfie with the sooo-eet bronze sculpture known as the “River Market Pig,” which sits on a fountain right outside the market. Behind it, the impressive Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden has more than 100 sculptures dotting meandering pathways. Biking or walking around the downtown riverfront is an ideal way to spend an afternoon with or without kids.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center & Park cuts the most dramatic profile on the waterfront. The architects were inspired by Clinton’s idea of “building a bridge to the 21st century.” Some observers say the rectangular design reminds them a double wide trailer, but hey, by whatever conveyance necessary forward into the future! The Clinton Library was dedicated in 2004 and houses the presidential limo, gifts from heads of state, a recreation of the Oval Office plus mountains of research material.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is another example of AR architecture reaching to elevate not only what’s inside, but the hometown’s profile. In this case, Bentonville. Where Walmart founder Sam Walton opened his first five-and-dime. (“Walmart’s 5 & 10” is still open to the public as part of the Walmart Museum at 105 N. Main St. in downtown Bentonville.)
Architect Moshe Safdie worked with Sam’s daughter Alice Walton to create a museum that makes a statement, but also respects the land surrounding it. Combining the “power of art” and the “beauty of nature” was the guiding principal.
Inside, Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection features hundreds of works of American art from the colonial era to present. Here are all the big-name stars of American art, but not just them.
As you wander the museum taking in masterpieces by Warhol and Hopper, Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley, you’ll also discover lesser-known artists. Personally, I was excited to spot a work by Wanda Gag. The artist, born in New Ulm, Minnesota, illustrated “Millions of Cats,” the oldest American picture book still in print.
If you’re hungry after all that walking, visit the Great Hall. You’ll find the museum restaurant “Eleven” under a soaring, pine-beamed ceiling. Grab coffee or a meal and you’ll be dining with stunning views of the ponds. Of course, a Chihuly dangles nearby.
Allow a minimum of two hours to tour this part of Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection. There is just so…much…art.
Outside, you can explore 3.5 miles of trails on the sprawling grounds and pass dozens of outdoor sculptures as you go. (Note to self: Come back in fall.) There are a couple architectural specimens on the grounds; visit the Frank Lloyd Wright “Usonian” House, relocated to its current spot in the southern woods. Buckminster Fuller’s “Fly’s Eye Dome” is on the North Lawn Trail. Inspired by the faceted eye of a fly, this structure was supposed to be a model of an affordable, portable house of the future.
And all of this is…absolutely free, other than admission for any special exhibits. Crystal Bridges is a staggering tribute to the breadth of American expression and creativity. And it couldn’t be more at home in Arkansas.