Monday, December 26, 2011

Art in the Hinterlands

For the second time this month the NY Times has reported on culture coming to northwest Arkansas, specifically on the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. For those not in the know, Bentonville is the corporate hometown of Wal-Mart, the largest retailer, indeed the largest company, in the world. Crystal Bridges is, in the words of the December 4 Times piece, “the ambitious pet project of Alice Walton, 62, who, as the daughter of Wal-Mart’s founder, Sam Walton, is the third-richest woman in the world, according to Forbes.”

Here are links to the two articles, in the order they appeared:

I met Alice Walton twice, in 1981 and 1982, if memory serves me right, each time at the conclusion of a canoe trip for stock analysts and journalists attending Wal-Mart’s annual meeting weekend. After the Saturday morning shareholders’ meeting, Sam Walton would command a flotilla of mostly New York-based numbers crunchers and Wal-Mart executives. We would end up at a campsite beside the river where Alice was busy preparing Mulligan Stew for the ragged pack. I can’t say it was the most savory meal I’ve eaten, but after you’ve been dipping an oar for more than three hours it was quite appreciated. The cold beer washing it down enhanced the flavor.

Alice didn’t get involved in the retail enterprise, so I didn’t really follow her career which included interests in finance.

I’m not sure where Alice got her penchant for art, but I’d bet it was from her mother, Helen. Before one of her parents’ vacations, a trip to Europe reminiscent of scenes depicted in many a book or movie about an American matron touring the Continent to soak up culture, Sam Walton called our office in a tizzy. Speaking to one of my former bosses, the late Dick Groberg, he pressed him for the names of retailers he could visit while Helen made her way through the galleries and museums of Europe. Sam Walton didn’t build an empire by poring over artifacts and paintings. He took inspiration from current enterprises, wherever they might be.