A flowery anchor for Crystal Bridges

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 76 views 

Back in November there were hints, niggling little bits of rumor, that the world’s most famous painting of jimson weed (Datura stramonium) might be coming to Bentonville. And sure enough it has.

The seemingly sedate flowing weed, the commonly known “loco weed” mainly for its hallucinogenic properties, is making the art world crazy again for the collections and exhibitions at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Credit the mothering influence of American Art that Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton saw for this addition to her collection – and to the upcoming exhibition. Ms. Walton, I have said before, has not only an eye for great American art, she has the pocketbook to see these great pieces of art remain in the American public museums that we can view and enjoy year after year.

The business and cultural community in Northwest Arkansas is ecstatic that the recently acquired Georgia O’Keeffe work will be headlining the March 28 opening of “Georgia O’Keeffe: See What I See” exhibition at Crystal Bridges. Inn keepers, restaurant owners and small business people around Northwest Arkansas were buzzing when word of the $44.4 million addition to Ms. Walton’s collection was announced this past week. This anchor artwork, to an already exciting spring/summer exhibition, is a $44.4 million economic shot in the arm.

Last November at an auction at Sotheby’s Auction House, the 1932 oil on canvass creation sold for a reported $44.4 million. The new owner was not announced. Rumors began to fly that this particular O’Keeffe work, long said to be a favorite of Alice Walton, would head to Bentonville. This week, those rumors, well, they flowered in full form and just in time for the March 28 opening.

Ms. Walton now owns one-half of the collection once housed at Fisk University. The collection was sadly, not being actively shown in public or protected from age, the elements or in a curator able condition. But those threats to these valuable American art works have been eliminated by Ms. Walton’s purchase and conservation efforts insisted upon in the deal with Fisk University.

The local excitement about the O’Keeffe works, including a rare sculpture on loan to Crystal Bridges from the private collection Alice Walton will also be on display.

While many may seem amazed as all the giddiness of local art converts of Crystal Bridges and the works displayed there: Folks, this is a big deal. It is the announcements of this magnitude from Crystal Bridges, which not only is reported by major media outlets in America, but makes hotels, restaurants and yes, all tourist related businesses in Northwest Arkansas beam with anticipated joy. I estimate that more than 150,000 folks may flock to Bentonville to see this wonderful exhibit/collection.

“We’re pleased to debut this iconic painting with our visitors, and know it will quickly become a favorite in our galleries. Jimson Weed is one of the most celebrated works from the more than 200 flower paintings O’Keeffe created in her lifetime,” said Crystal Bridges Executive Director Rod Bigelow.

But I won’t be surprised at the crowds who will gather in Bentonville to look at Jimson Weed/Flower No. 1. Thanks again, Alice Walton and the Walton family. We have no idea how many times I’ll say that, but it is heart-felt and earnest each time.