opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
It’s not often one gets to give a suggestion to a member of the wealthy billionaire Walton Clan of Northwest Arkansas. But here goes.
“Dear Ms. Alice:
“Please consider buying the Norman Rockwell paintings up for auction at Sotheby’s on Dec. 4th.
“Folks here in Northwest Arkansas, and elsewhere too, sure do love your Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Why, over a million folks came to see your collection last year. And Crystal Bridges’ own Rockwell painting, 'Rosie The Riveter,' is one of the museums favorites.
“Also recall when the 'American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell,' a traveling exhibition concluded its 11-weeks at Crystal Bridges last May, more than 121,000 people visited the museum just to view those magazine covers.
“Buying these Rockwell paintings, will no doubt, raise awareness, grow tourism for the area and make cash registers ring all over Northwest Arkansas. And they will bring even more people to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.”
There I said it. I for one, hope she buys them.
Her recent billionaire Forbes ranking, tells me she has the cash. Not that Ms. Walton needs any more encouragement from anyone as to what she should add to her collection. She is a shrewd and careful collector.
So why buy more?
The late UA professor Diane Kincaid Blair, a close friend to President Bill and former First Lady Hillary Clinton, perhaps said it best, at a sculpture donation at the University of Arkansas years ago. Standing with her husband Jim Blair, she told an assembled group. “Jim and I really don’t know much about art, but we know good art when we see it.”
After wandering the galleries at Crystal Bridges Museum of America Art, I reflected on Ms. Blair’s quote.
It rings true to me.
No doubt the entire collections at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, from an art collector’s eye is filled with important, historical, technical and ground breaking types of American art.
As an infrequent visitor. I know what I like. And I know it when I see it. That’s why when I see the works by Norman Rockwell’s (and works like Gilbert Sullivan’s George Washington and other works) I can also appreciate those genres of American art I am somewhat not so well acquainted with.
And the 121,000 visitor total from that recent Rockwell exhibition in tiny Bentonville (population 38,284), outpaced similar exhibitions in Sacramento, Detroit, Raleigh and Orlando.
It will draw even more to Crystal Bridges if the Norman Rockwell paintings going to auction find their way to Bentonville. The paintings: "Saying Grace," "The Gossips" and "Walking to Church" are among seven works by the Saturday Evening Post illustrator going on sale at Sotheby's Dec. 4.
I’m not asking Ms. Walton to buy all seven, but she does know how to wheel and deal in world of art. The major three, all, or any one, will add nicely to her signature Rockwell, now on the wall at Crystal Bridges in nearby Bentonville.
"Saying Grace," a scene of a crowded restaurant with a boy and woman bowed in prayer at their table, is estimated to bring between $15 million to $20 million. It could beat the Rockwell record of $15.4 million set at Sotheby's in 2006 for "Breaking Home Ties," according to an Associated Press account announcing the art works for sale.
"The Gossips," which was a cover illustration of the March 6, 1948, issue, is estimated to bring $6 million to $9 million. It depicts a montage of the artist's neighbors, his wife Mary and Rockwell himself finger-wagging and yammering on the phone.
"Walking to Church" could fetch $3 million to $5 million. It appeared on the cover of the April 4, 1953, issue and shows a family dressed in their Sunday best walking along a city street. Rockwell based it on a painting by Johann Vermeer.
Rounding up all these estimates, the paintings could go for as high as $32 million.
Ms. Walton has paid more for various art pieces in the museum. We hope she considers this possible acquisition. We’ve been sold on the pricelessness of Crystal Bridges since it was just a conceptual idea. Crystal Bridges and its art collection is indeed a regional treasure, a tourist and educational destination for Northwest Arkansas and our state.
The addition of more Rockwell works would be a great fit.