Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a glorious fusion of art, architecture and nature in northwestern Arkansas, was impressive even before the recent appearance — both inside and in the surrounding Ozark woods — of 300 glass objects in a temporary exhibit by acclaimed glass artist Dale Chihuly.
The outdoor installations along the paved mile-long North Forest Trail mark the first time Chihuly’s works will be on view in a natural forest setting, said Lauren Haynes, curator of contemporary art for Crystal Bridges, which has attracted more than 3 million people since its 2011 opening.
Chihuly created “Sole d’Oro (Golden Sun),” a conglomeration of 1,300 hand-blown pieces of golden and clear glass, to reflect the forest’s natural light.
The nine large-scale works mingling with the Ozark flora also include a multicolored neon assemblage.
And all outdoor works are illuminated Wednesday through Saturday evenings through the summer.
Inside the galleries, Chihuly, 75, continues to push the envelope with the debut of a new technique he’s calling “Glass on Glass,” painted sheets of glass that are fired and then overlapped with other colorful glass pieces and framed.
A new series called “Rotolo” involves intricate spirals rising from a common center, a technique that took more than three years to perfect.
A centerpiece of the exhibit is the multimedia “Winter Brilliance,” a mesmerizing choreography set to Debussy of digitally mapped colored lights playing across icicle-inspired pieces.
Chihuly’s collection of Native American woven rugs and baskets forms the backdrop for pieces incorporating pieces of glass thread as well as slumping glass bowls that mimic the worn baskets’ shapes.
The first piece that then-textile student Chihuly made incorporating pieces of glass is on display for the first time. He made it in 1965, the year he blew his first small glass ball.
There is a special admission charge to visit the dual Chihuly exhibits, but there are also two dramatic glass pieces on display in the museum, which is free: Colorful glass orbs float on a spring along the Art Trail, and the “Azure Icicle Chandelier” hangs in the light-filled gallery bridge.
Built over water and surrounded by 120 acres of woods, the museum offers views from many places inside, evoking memories of L.A.’s Getty Center, another philanthropist-founded museum.
Crystal Bridges was founded by Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation in the hometown of the original Walton’s five-and-dime and current Wal-Mart corporate headquarters.
Unlike the Getty, Crystal Bridges focuses on art from a single country, allowing it to form a cohesive collection. It’s displayed chronologically and thematically in the context of American history, which is illustrated by cultural timelines throughout.
Nods to American architecture include Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1954 Usonian house, moved to the grounds and reconstructed in 2015, as well as the recent relocation of the largest of the “Fly’s Eye” domes created by Buckminster Fuller as affordable housing alternatives.
Art-making for kids in an inside gallery and downloadable maps to art and plants along the four miles of trails make it a family-friendly (and free) place to visit. There is a $20 charge to visit the dual Chihuly exhibitions. (Those 18 and younger are admitted free).
The Art Trail connects Crystal Bridges to downtown Bentonville, where there are more cosmopolitan dining options than one might imagine for a city of 46,000.
A block from the manicured town square is the hip 21c Museum Hotel, itself a contemporary art museum with original art and an art video channel in each room.
Chihuly in the Gallery will be on display until Aug. 14. Chihuly in the Forest will be open until Nov. 13. (After the indoor exhibit closes, admission drops to $10.)
The museum is closed Tuesdays.
Info:Crystal Bridges. More information and timed tickets to the Chihuly exhibition are available on the website.