(From early November) Reality set in as we drove home to Iowa from Bentonville. Our balmy weather suddenly turned cold and rainy. We listened to too much news about our awful current president denying the results of the election that booted him. And his awful Republican enablers. We also were clearly heading back into major Covid spread territory in Iowa.
But I am cheered by Biden’s steady leadership and ability to withstand Trump’s provocations. We stopped in the small Missouri town of Adrian to pick up a late lunch in Pecan country (and apparently in Trump country too,judging from the yard signs). We were the only folks wearing masks at Byrd’s Pecan Delights. fortunately we were also almost the only people in there. Not to be confused with Byrd’s Hoot Owl Pecans (great name), a farmers market in nearby Butler, Mo. Solid sandwich fare (chicken salad with, yes, pecans; a BLT) and bought some candied pecans for gifts and a slice of incredibly sweet chocolate pecan pie. Stopped at Gates in Kansas City for ribs to go and Dirck’s receipt came up with a STAR on it so he got a $10 bill. Only took 35 years of Gates visits to get that lucky! before we left Bentonville, we took me more bike ride, ending up for coffee at The Meteor, a cool little place in a bike shop near the Momentary. (Another one nearby is called theairport.)
Because of Covid, I booked an Airbnb with a kitchen and dining space so we have eaten all but one of our meals dans Airbnb, on a little wooden deck at a turquoise-colored metal table overlooking a sloping lawn with trees and a big stone mansion in the distance. We ordered takeaway from Oven & Tap, which made for two dinners – excellent flash-fried edamame, fried chicken and a margarita pizza. We had to wait a half hour beyond our pickup time, but other than lousy service, no complaints about the food! We also got excellent bread (orchard bread, rosemary polenta bread) from Ferrere, a bakery in Kansas City’s quality Hill neighborhood (near bluebird cafe)which has served us well.
Crystal Bridges’ North Forest Lights did not disappoint. At our scheduled time (8:15) we joined a socially distanced crowd to walk 1.5 miles along a lit path in the dark woods, stopping at 5 installations that combine music, lights, trees and sometime sculpture. It was mesmerizing. The woods was also dotted with sculpture, illuminated by lights. Loved this!
Today we rode bikes to Crystal Bridges proper and showed our timed tickets on my phone to get in. The museum is free. We paid $ 12 per person for an interesting show of photography by Ansel Adams and a host of contemporary landscape photographers. It took me awhile to figure out how to best see the art, given we must wear masks. I thought contacts would be best but after getting warm riding my bike, my vision was blurry with the contacts so I switched to glasses. Next issue, my glasses kept fogging up so I’d have to wait until the fog cleared to see the photos. I finally figured out a way to put my mask a little lower on my nose so my glasses didn’t fog. For the most part, other people kept their distance but every once in awhile some clueless person would get too close. I just moved away. We did eat lunch in the museum’s cafeteria because there were only a few tables with people, we found a table far from everyone, the space is huge with high high ceilings and glorious views of the ravine and yellow and orange leaves on the trees.
Sorry for the confused posts. WordPress is mucking up. Anyway, here is Dirck at The Momentary, a contemporary art space in Bentonville. Below is a scene at North Forest Lights, a spectacular sound and light show in the forest north of Crystal Bridges Museum, here.
On our third visit, Bentonville continues to intrigue us. It’s an unlikely mix of small town and boom town, of traditional values and cutting edge contemporary art, of dare devil mountain bikers and artsy looking visitors, hymns played on the 5 p.m. Sunday church bells and a wild Nick Cave avant-garde installation at an industrial chic museum in a former Velvetta cheese factory.
With Covid raging across the land (Arkansas is slightly less beet red than Iowa on the Covid map…although it may as well be the political map too), this has been an easy place to social distance. We rode our bikes up down and around the Razorback Greenway trail that is right near our Airbnb and runs north-south, curving through dense hilly woods along a ravine by Crystal Bridges museum, past sculpture along the “art trail” and paralleling a crazy off-road dirt trail with jumps and platforms that draws daredevil teens and adults.
In town, the trail skirts the pristine town square, lined with well-tended old brick buildings, and heads through neighborhoods with a remarkable mix of architecture, from tiny unassuming shacks and ranch houses to massive elegant old mansions and new modern mansions that sit close to the street but are block-deep and high, lots of tin, wood, porches. Some newbies tower over their smaller older neighbors. One house in our neighborhood must be four times the size of its neighbor.
Our Airbnb is just northeast of the square in what seems like the newer part of town on NE 2nd St., which feels a little more rural with huge lots than the east side. We are behind our Airbnb owner’s attractive ranch house, in a spacious studio apartment tacked onto a barn-like garage. It is country chic inside and incredibly well-equipped, down to the homemade marshmallows, Hershey bar and graham crackers for s’mores, using the brick fire pit in our very private back yard.
We also have an outdoor deck where we have eaten all our meals because it has been so incredibly warm (and we are not eating out during a pandemic). Our view looks out onto woods and a ravine. Past the ravine is an intriguing stone mansion with a French mansard roof. We finally walked around the block to see it. Turns out it’s even more enormous than we thought, on a street with three more huge tasteful houses with private electronic gates. As D says, we are in Hamptons Territory here, which is weird because this is, or used to be, small town northwest Arkansas. We assume many of the new fancy homes being built all over town are for Walmart bigwigs.
I haven’t even gotten to the museums, which is why we came here. We biked about five minutes south to The Momentary, the dramatic industrial cool museum that opened last spring as a hipster offshoot of Crystal Bridges Museum. It’s an industrial retrofit, with poured concrete walls and large high-ceilinged spaces for huge installations so it was well-suited to Nick Cave’s over-the-top concoctions. We started in one large room filled with dangling cut tin ornaments in many colors and shapes, that grew and shrank and shined with the breeze.
The main attraction is an enormous hodge podge of kitschy stuff – – ceramic birds, beads, old sambo sculptures and black-faced jockey lawn ornaments (the very un-PC ones) crowded astop an enormous tacky chandelier. To see it up close, we could climb one of three yellow metal ladders to a small clearing. Given Covid, we had to wipe our hands with a sanitary wipe before and after climbing. We also went to another viewing platform on a balcony, which we had all to our own. (There were few visitors to begin with.)
Outside, on a vast lawn with a huge tarp/tent, there was supposed to be activities like yoga and meditation but they never seemed to materialize, even though I signed up for something called sound and light. Circles were drawn on the lawn to help people sit six feet apart. We rode bikes to a nearby former industrial space, that had a few shops and food place, including 8th street market which was mostly closed on a Sunday. We walked through one space called Holler where a few young people were playing shuffleboard on a glossy wood floor in the middle of a space lined with a bar and tables to eat burgers and ramen ordered on a computer screen. Not sure where the food was coming from. There were a few food trucks outside. We went in one lovely shop specializing in textiles and wool, with beautiful indigo dyed cloth and paper like we saw in Japan.
We rode around the market district surrounded The Momentary , another interesting mix of old housing and new contemporary homes. Then we rode north on the razorback greenway trail through the prettiest stretch, winding through the woods past and north of crystal bridges. A bit hairy to navigate at times with strollers and mountain bikers on crazy trails parallel to our more sedate trail. The northern bit of the trail that leads to a small lake was closed due to construction. We ended up taking another trail (north Walton) back. Although it runs parallel to highway 71, most of the time we were hidden in the woods and it was far less crowded than the Razorback greenway. Once we got to town, We rode on a combination of what felt like country roads and trails. Later this evening we took a long walk, admiring the mix of architecture and homes east and west of the square.
We’ve been to the fabulous Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville twice (2012, 2018) since it opened in 2011 and it looks like we need to go a third time, maybe spring 2020 to see the “State of the Art II” exhibit next year — and a new ancillary exhibit space, The Momentary, opening in a former cheese factory. Bentonville also has a another art space, the 21c Museum Hotel which has contemporary art exhibits (Des Moines is supposed to get one of these hotels sometime soon!) A PBS documentary that aired in spring 2019 on the museum’s first State of the Art Exhibit is available for streaming here.
Remember the State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now exhibition at Crystal Bridges? It was based on a journey in which museum curators visited over 1,000 artists across the country and created an exhibition featuring 102 of these artists whose work had not yet been recognized on a national level. This groundbreaking exhibition is now the subject of a one-hour documentary produced by the Arkansas Educational Television Network premiering nationally on PBS Friday evening, April 26th (2019). Filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud captured the personal stories of seven diverse artists featured in State of the Art, traveling from the woods of North Carolina to the deserts of Nevada, the backstreets of Pittsburgh to the foothills of Arkansas and the riverbanks of New Orleans.
Thanks to the NYTimes listings, I know what’s on my to-see list during trips East, West and North this year.
In LA – Betye Saar: The Legends of “Black Girl’s Window” – LACMA Sept. 22-April 5.
In Chicago – Photography + Folk Art: Looking for american in the 1930s: Art Institute of Chicago Sept. 21-Jan. 19, 2020 ….In a cloud, in a wall, in a chair: Six modernists in Mexico at Mid Century (thru Jan. 12)
In Minneapolis: Theaster Gates: Assembly Hall – at Walker Art Center thru Jan. 12.
In Bentonville, Ark — The Momentary, which appears to be an outpost of the fabulous Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
In NYC: Kenyan-American Artist Wangechi Mutu’s sculptures at the MET – the first-ever art commission for the museum’s Fifth Avenue facade niches (her “Water Woman” sculpture at the Des Moines Art Center is a bit hit with the fourth-graders I take on tours) ; also on my list: the Amy Sherald show (she of the Michelle Obama portrait)…
When we visited Crystal Bridges Art Museum last fall in Bentonville, Arkansas, we were very impressed with the new 21C Museum Hotel (21C as in 21st Century) nearby on the town square. With art installations everywhere and an upscale restaurant and bar, it felt almost like a continuation of Crystal Bridges.
Now comes word that a new development in downtown Des Moines will also have a 21C Museum Hotel. (See this Des Moines Register story click here) Can’t wait to see it!!
The Hive Restaurant bar at 21C Museum Hotel in Bentonville, AR.
After a quiet night at our airbnb in Rogers, we dropped in at the hip happening coffee shop in downtown Bentonville, Onyx, which was buzzing, on a Sunday morning no less. After a few jolts of caffeine, we drove north through Missouri, passing what seemed like many road signs advertising Jesus, guns, churches and anti-abortion.
Stopped for gas in Lamar and toured a local outlet of the “Beef Jerky Warehouse,” which had more varieties of jerky than imaginable and some interesting T-shirts. We were taken aback, while reading a little wall sign about Lamar’s history, to see a casual mention of the KKK meetings (once) held in town.
In Kansas City, where the fall colors were most spectacular, we had lunch with a favorite relative, Uncle Kenneth, on the Plaza at the Parkway Social Kitchen. Not bad. Particularly appreciated the servers, who were gentle and kind to our elderly relative, which was much appreciated. The drive home to Iowa – where the trees also have turned fiery reds, yellows and oranges during our one week away – was also uneventful.
Another “hit” (vs miss) as expected in this perfect little north Arkansas town brought to you by Walmart. This is our second trip to Crystal Bridges and the museum continues to vow. The setting, deep in the woods; the architecture, a dramatic series of curvy buildings in and around a small lake; the art work, a fantastic collection of American art, especially the last 50 years or so; a classy restaurant dining room with terrific food; what’s not to like?
The drive north from Hot Springs, especially the initial stretch on two lane highway 7, was spectacular. Curvy winding roads up and around and down woods-carpeted mountains, really gorgeous.
After the museum, we visited the 21c museum hotel downtown, ultra modern with a museum on its walls of very interesting art and a stylish restaurant called Hive where we had a drink, sitting under a big piece of plastic orange honeycomb with a big toy bee hanging out in it. Tonight we had an excellent dinner at Oven and Tap downtown– edamame, meatballs, fried chicken. Can’t complain.
Tonight we are at airbnb # 6, all good. It’s a nondescript little house in a suburban subdivision in nearby Rogers, with a comfy bed and bath and the owner is away camping so again, just us.
This trip has been very hit or miss, with places I am glad we went and others I could do without. Sadly Hot Springs is a miss. Haven’t been here in 28 years and it seems down at the heels and sort of spooky. We are staying at a spiffed up motor court and although the owners have done a very good job of tarting it up, the neighborhood is shabby, with a very unspiffed up motor court (Dame Fortune, which we found via airbnb) a stone’s throw away and some shuttered old hotels. It’s also at a busy intersection so lots of loud cars and motorcycles. (I’m getting fussier in my old age…) The famous old baths downtown look faded and the crowd is a bit rough. Dinner was at Deluca’s Pizza, which was good except for the service and the weird glamour shot photos on the walls.
We did have an interesting day, driving backroads through the cotton fields of the Delta and the still-dying towns. Helena, Arkansas, which I have visited twice before, is still desperately poor, although there are valiant efforts at redevelopment.
In a food shop downtown, a nice chef whipped us up some sauteed shrimp atop a baked potato seasons with rosemary and garlic. We ate it outside, sitting on park benches atop the levee, looking out at a loading dock on/near the Mississippi River. We drove back roads to Hot Springs…another America, Trump’s America, faded towns and worn-out places.
The day began with a visit to the Shack Up Inn, a collection of old shotgun shacks and cotton bins converted into lodging in a field south of town. Noah and I stayed in one of the shacks almost 10 years ago. The place has grown — there’s now a suburb (“Shackville”) adjacent to the original cluster and a new funky office/store/restaurant/ music venue. A very small wedding was taking place during our visit. We also stopped in at Cat Head, a blues music and folk art store run by a passionate and very knowledge blues fan originally from Ohio. The town still looks pretty bombed out and the black neighborhood in particular is very poor but it still seems to draw lots of blues fans, especially foreigners. I was sad to hear that Rat, the kind man who owned the famous Riverside Hotel died. He gave us a very memorable tour of the hotel 10 years ago. (He was an older man then.)
We also drove through to Friars Point and Lula, two desperate towns just north of Clarksdale en route to Helena. No change there that I could see.