A Monument to American Ambition
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened last month in the middle of America, which also happens to be in the middle of nowhere. To discover just how isolated Bentonville, Arkansas, is, you should play with a map and see how large a circle around the town you must draw before major population centers come in reach. A three-hour drive would take you as far as Tulsa; to reach Little Rock, Kansas City, or Wichita would take another hour. And yet Bentonville, with its 35,000 inhabitants, has a significance all its own: It is the home of Walmart, the country’s largest chain of retail stores, where Sam Walton opened his first store in 1962. And it is here where his daughter, Alice Walton, has placed her elegant and exorbitantly ambitious museum.
Alice was born in 1949; after studying economics at Trinity University in San Antonio, she spent most of her career in business and kept a low public profile. After her father’s death in 1992, she came into her fortune of some 20 billion dollars, making her (according to Forbes) the 10th wealthiest person in America.
About the Author
Michael J. Lewis, a frequent contributor, is professor of art at Williams College.