An Interview with Alice Walton: Crystal Bridges An Expression of Love

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

A version of this article originally appeared in Arkansas Business on October 10, 2011. It is being republished as part of Arkansas Business' 30th anniversary issue. You can access the digital edition for free here.

Articles about Alice Walton and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art have tended to focus on big numbers: an $800 million endowment, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of artwork, 200,000 SF of museum space, 250,000 visitors expected to visit the Bentonville showplace yearly.

All this without even factoring in the vast family fortune: Alice Walton alone is estimated to be worth some $21 billion.

What the stories haven’t done is explain why Walton, the only daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, chose art as her way to give not just to northwest Arkansas but to the entire world.

The explanation turns out to be pretty simple. She loves art; she finds it transformative, spiritual. She loves American history, and American art tells the American story. She wants to share these loves.

And she loved her mother, Helen, who introduced Alice to drawing and watercolors and encouraged her to express herself through these media.

Art was a bond between Walton and her mother, who died in 2007, two years after plans for the museum were announced.

“When I was growing up I used to love to draw and do watercolors,” Walton told Arkansas Business. “And Mom was an active participant in that. We used to draw and watercolor together.

“Then whenever we went on family camping trips, I would always take my watercolors and do very amateurish scenes of the landscapes.”

Walton calls that time, when Helen Walton taught her daughter to draw and paint and when they would draw and paint together, “precious.” It formed a bond between the pair that, one suspects, neither time nor death can dissolve.

By the time Mrs. Walton reached 80, she was, Alice said, somewhat limited in what she could do. But among the “things she loved the most was her weekly art classes. She was still doing watercolors the last years of her life.”

Her mother’s love of art, the love she passed on to her daughter, has “had a huge impact on me and is one of the real motivations for Crystal Bridges,” Walton said. “I hope that a lot of other mothers and daughters and fathers and sons or daughters can use this facility and this institution to make those connections.”



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