Greetings Blog Readers! Sam here, writing on behalf of the Guide Program these days. I wanted to quickly share with you all that I have recently transitioned from the Trails and Grounds Department over to Education, where I assist Guide Program Manager Alyssa Wilson with the coordinating/development of the program. For those unfamiliar with our Guide Program, Crystal Bridges has a group of roughly 60 highly educated/trained individuals who volunteer to lead specialized tours aimed at the Museum’s architecture, gardens, and of course the artwork. As part of the program’s on-going training, we offer monthly continuing education sessions, so they may continue to develop and expand on their existing knowledge of the Museum’s collection.
Back in May, Alyssa and I invited the corps to attend an off-site training at the studio of local artist George Dombek. The Museum’s most well-known Dombek work is probably his bronze sculpture Tour de (Apple) Tree up on the Crystal Bridges Trail. I especially love this piece because it blends so effortlessly into the landscape. I remember working in the wildflowers one day, not five feet from the sculpture, when a group of patrons looked right through the work and asked me if I knew where the Dombek tree was? They thought I was nuts when in turn I asked them, “Are you joking, you can’t see it??” And then we all had a good laugh. Now that’s how you blend art and nature!
Okay, back to the training. If anyone hasn’t been to Dombek’s studio…go! George received his bachelor’s degree in architecture, and you can tell! He has created a compound of sorts in what was historically a rolling pasture until he planted hundreds of pine tree saplings in the early 70s. Today, these trees provide a dense canopy over a very architecturally laid out sequence of spaces, which include his home, gallery space, and working studio. To top it off, he has meticulous gardens episodically arranged, concealing then revealing various sculptural elements to his guests. There are numerous outdoor rooms created from native boulders, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials, centering on works by famous sculptors, including works from Robyn Horn, one of the artists in Crystal Bridges’ own collection. If George hadn’t done so fabulously as an artist, I’d have said he missed his calling in life as a Landscape Architect!
George picked up a second degree from the University of Arkansas, a master’s of fine arts. Once again, you can tell! He showed us his early works, including some very architectural paintings depicting fire escapes with shadows and lighting patterns one can get twisted in. We saw watercolors of natural elements that remind us just how vibrant life really is; and the creek pebbles, beech leaves, and bamboo from his more recent works pop off the page. Finally, we were welcomed into his working studio where he discussed his current ongoing project: to travel to every single county in Arkansas, all 75 of them, single out a historical barn with character and recreate it though his paintings. That is no small feat! However, George is probably one of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met, and two months later he may be done. Traveling the Bahamas for some R&R? Not George, he’s probably setting himself an even more arduous assignment. Maybe he’ll paint every constellation in the sky, or cast a series of Arkansas Champion trees in bronze, I don’t know. I’ll have to make a return visit this fall to find out.