Alice Walton, an heir to the Walton family fortune, is the force behind Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, which opened in 2011. The museum is devoted to the history of American art and its artists, and the permanent collection includes works ranging from Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington to Asher Brown Durand's "Kindred Spirits" to Roy Lichtenstein's "Standing Explosion (Red)."
The museum, one of the finest of American art in the world, has already generated economic development in the area and is one of the state's top tourist draws.
Named in 2012 among Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World," Walton attributes the inspiration for the museum to her mother, Helen, with whom Alice said she shared a bond over art.
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 told Arkansas Business in a 2011 interview. "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."
Although easily able to articulate what she hopes the museum will achieve, Walton chooses her words slowly and carefully when asked to explain the importance of art in her life and to the lives of museum visitors.
"I think the world and the digital age that we're in is very much kind of a straight-line thought process, and I think that art is not. I think that spiritual connections are not, for example," she said.
"And I think people today have much less exposure to the non-straight-line-type aesthetic. And I don't know how else to put it. There's a better word, I'm sure," Walton said, again laughing. "But I think that students today and people in general - just with the digital age we're in - have much less exposure to art, things related to art than they used to have. And I think for that reason it's much more important."
Despite the triumph of Crystal Bridges, Alice Walton has experienced troubles in personal life. According to a New York Times profile reprinted in Arkansas Business in 1999, Walton endured more than 30 surgeries to repair a leg crushed when the car she was driving overturned in Mexico in 1983. Six years later, she was held blameless when an Arkansas woman stepped into the path of her Porsche and died as a result of the collision.
Then, in January 1998, her sport utility vehicle crashed near her Arkansas home. She was charged with drunken driving and three other violations.
And just weeks before Crystal Bridges was set to open in 2011, she was arrested for DWI near her home in Texas. Walton took full reponsibility and said she regretted the indicient.
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