After a long, hugging embrace with an old friend, Alice Walton spoke about her first trip in to the construction zone that's turned a wooded valley of her family's property into piles of limestone and red clay.
"I started crying the first time I came down because it was so beautiful," Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. founder, said. "This was a playground. It was a wonderland."
Walton, founder and president of Crystal Bridges, was joined at the site by Bob Workman, the museum's executive director, and other speakers.
Announced in May 2005, the $50 million museum is expected to lure more than 250,000 people through its doors each year after it opens in 2009.
At the dedication, Walton joked about not climbing the stage more gracefully after "climbing these hills for years."
She was more than graceful in her speech, dedicating the museum project to her mother, Helen Walton, who died last month.
"She would always say we were keeping this for something special," Walton said. "It was truly magical to us ... and we hope it's magical for everyone who comes here."
The dedication ceremony lasted about 35 minutes, after buses carrying a who's who of Northwest Arkansas brought onlookers to the site.
Other speakers included department of history chairman Jeannie Whayne, the Rev. Darwin Wolfe and Jennifer Admire, a Siloam Springs High School student who won the 3rd Congressional District's 2007 art competition.
At more than 100,000-SF, Crystal Bridges museum will sit within 100 wooded acres and include galleries for permanent collections and special exhibits, a public education center with an auditorium, a professional education center with classrooms, walking trails and a central pond.
So far, the museum's collection includes paintings by Charles Wilson Peale, Charles Bird King, Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell and an 1849 painting called "Kindred Spirits" by Asher B. Durand, which Walton paid $35 million for in 2005.
There will be about 30,000 SF of total gallery space with about 17,000 SF dedicated to the permanent collection.
Walton Foundation Releases Designs for Crystal Bridges Museum (includes links to paintings and early plans)