New museum will house hundreds of American art treasures in unlikely place: an Arkansas ravine

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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — As an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, Alice Walton had the means to buy almost any piece of art on the market. So she scooped up one masterpiece after another: an iconic portrait of George Washington, romantic landscapes from the 19th century, a Norman Rockwell classic.

She amassed an enviable collection of treasures spanning most of American history, and now it’s about to go on display in an unlikely place, a wooded ravine in a small city in northwest Arkansas.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is regarded as the nation’s most important new art museum in a generation, offering the type of exhibits more commonly found in New York or Los Angeles. But this hall of paintings is taking shape in Bentonville, a community of 35,000 people best known as home of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. headquarters.

Walton’s collection provided a “sort of instant museum,” said Henry Adams, an art history professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Rather than starting with a small collection and slowly expanding, Crystal Bridges will be fully formed from day one....

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