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How It All Began: Alice Walton’s Watercolors

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will be closed Monday, May 13, to prepare for the visit of Antiques Roadshow. We will return to normal hours of operation Wednesday, May 15.

Georgia O’Keeffe


Thomas Hart Benton, "Buffalo River," 1968, Watercolor and pencil on paper mounted on board

Thomas Hart Benton, “Buffalo River,” 1968, Watercolor and pencil on paper mounted on board

While exploring Crystal Bridges, guests encounter a wide variety of artworks ranging in scale, style, and media, the creation thereof spanning roughly five centuries. From James Wooldridges’s seventeenth-century depiction of Native American culture to Leo Villareal’s LED light sculpture towering 30 feet in the air, the galleries and grounds present a wonderful overview of art in the context of American history. And it all began with one woman’s love of watercolor.

Museum Founder and Board Chair Alice Walton’s initial interest in art began many years ago when she discovered the delicate beauty of watercolor.

“As a child, my mother and I painted watercolors of nature during our travels to our country’s magnificent national parks,” she explained. “I was a frustrated painter. I knew I could never capture the beauty and inspiration of the American land, but I tried my best.”

Grant Wood, "Fertility," 1939 Charcoal on board

Grant Wood,
“Fertility,” 1939
Charcoal on board

Eventually, Ms. Walton put down her brush and began collecting watercolor paintings by regional artists. She also spent a deal of time researching various artists and their cultural significance.

By the late 1980s, Ms. Walton’s fondness of art, paired with her ever-increasing fascination with art history, inspired her to begin collecting works on paper by artists such as Thomas Moran, Andrew Wyeth, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

“When I discovered the great masters of American art history and their watercolors, I understood the wide gap between what I could do and what our greatest artists have achieved,” said Ms. Walton. “It made me want to live with their inspiration, and that’s what I began to collect.”

Winslow Homer, "On the Hill," 1878, Watercolor on paper

Winslow Homer,
“On the Hill,” 1878, Watercolor on paper

In the beginning, Ms. Walton primarily collected nineteenth-century paintings by realist artists like John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer, but as she read more, she developed an eye for modern and contemporary art as well. Ms. Walton began to explore how art evolves as societies and cultures change. This general interest in American culture and history inspired her to expand her collection, so she began acquiring works by artists in many media.

In 2005, Ms. Walton’s desire to share these masterworks with the public took her far beyond her role as a collector when she, along with the Walton Family Foundation, founded Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Red and Blue No. I," 1916 Watercolor on paper

Georgia O’Keeffe,
“Red and Blue No. I,” 1916 Watercolor on paper

Don’t miss the opportunity to explore some of Ms. Walton’s earliest acquisitions during Crystal Bridges’ temporary exhibition At First Sight: Collecting the American Watercolor. The exhibition includes works by Thomas Hart Benton, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, and Georgia O’Keeffe. These works are promised gifts to Crystal Bridges, currently on loan from Alice Walton.

An audio tour of At First Sight is available as part of the Crystal Bridges app. You may download the app to your Apple or Android device for free, or check out an audio guide from Guest Services at no cost. The Crystal Bridges app is sponsored by Cox Communication.

At First Sight: Collecting the American Watercolor is sponsored by Avis Bailey, Greenwood Gearhart Inc, Meza Harris, Charles and Shannon Holley, Randy and Valorie Lawson/Lawco Energy Group, Mark and Diane Simmons,and Dennis and Cynthia Smiley.