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Culture can be found in Northwest Arkansas

By Tammy Keith

This article was published September 1, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

I’ve never traveled to another country, but as I always say, there are places in Arkansas I still want to go.

I marked one of those off my bucket list a couple of weekends ago.

My momma took my 49-year-old self (which I was till Friday) to Bentonville as a pre-birthday celebration.

Now, Bentonville wasn’t on my bucket list, per se, but the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was.

If you haven’t heard of it (which means you haven’t been reading a newspaper in the past two years, but I’ll save the lecture), it’s the amazing art museum that Alice Walton paid to have built, surrounded by woods, in Bentonville.

Millions of dollars worth of art is there, and people from all over the world come to see it.

When my mom and I were there, cars were in the parking lot from several states and Canada.

Before we toured the museum, though, we had an experience just staying in the 21C Museum Hotel.

The hotel just opened in February, and it’s really cool. It has an art exhibit that rotates every few months, and the one when we were there was Hybridity, which was weird, beautiful and amazing at the same time. There was a real tree that produces 40 kinds of fruit; antlers covered with Swarovski crystals; and dramatic black-and-white photographs.

The hotel’s “shtick,” as my husband calls it, is a permanent collection of green penguins, an idea from a group of artists. These penguins, nearly 4-feet-tall, are made of recycled plastic and appear all over the hotel, changing locations overnight. They can be found looking at art, or in the elevator to surprise you. Our sweet waitress in the hotel restaurant put one at our table to eat breakfast with us.

The hotel is a 15-minute walk from Crystal Bridges, or if you’re like my mom and me, about 30 minutes. We stopped to take pictures of the bronze sculptures along the way and stopped people to take our picture, and we took theirs.

The museum itself emerges in the distance and is beautiful — lots of glass looking out on the water. The art, of course, is amazing — from Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell to a portrait of Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol — classic and crazy pieces, all together in a beautiful setting.

(Here’s a little tip: Don’t point at the writing on the wall, or a big female security guard might think you’re TOUCHING the wall and call you out in front of everyone.)

I looked over and saw an old man sitting on a bench and thought, “That poor man got tired and is waiting on somebody.”

He was a piece of art and looked as real as any of us.

We left at dark when the museum closed, and walking back on the lighted path, we saw three deer, including a baby, on the trail just a few feet from us.

Then we ate at a food truck — Crepes Paulette, named for the man’s wife — across the street from the hotel before we left. I had dark chocolate and strawberries, one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.

He’s from France (I videoed him with my phone, recording his accent); his wife is a Hendrix graduate.

They live in Arkansas, you notice — not France.

Why go anywhere else?

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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