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Art exhibition sheds light on the effect of oceans and rivers

BENTONVILLE – While the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art may seem far from the ocean, it’s more connected than it immediately appears, said a co-curator of a new exhibition that opens on Saturday.

“In American Waters: The Sea in American Painting” was co-organized by Austen Barron Bailly, chief curator at Crystal Bridges, and Daniel Finamore, Russell W. Knight curator at Maritime Art and History at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Masse .

Although Bentonville appears to be landlocked, Crystal Springs, where the museum is located, empties into the White River, which in turn empties into the Mississippi River and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico and then into the Atlantic Ocean, said Bailly during a media preview Thursday.

Bailly said the 70 works in the exhibition, produced by a wide range of artists, explore the key role of water in American society, no matter where you live.

“I hope people find time to pause throughout this exhibition and recognize their connectivity to something far and wide,” Bailly said. “Looking at the paintings is transporting and can inspire new ways of thinking about American art and history, as well as the feeling that you might actually have a connection to a place like Salem through art.”

The artwork goes beyond paintings of seascapes and clippers. It also reflects the experiences of various groups arriving on American shores, from European pilgrims and immigrants to African slaves.

The course of the exhibition is meant to evoke an oceanic journey from a port to unknown lands. Before visitors enter, they can sign a “logbook” intended to refer to the passenger manifests that document travelers on board ships or arriving at US ports.

Once inside the exhibition, visitors find themselves in the “port”, with paintings depicting the first sailing ships. This section is anchored by the 1797 portrait of George Washington which is part of the museum’s permanent collection.

The viewer encounters other parts of the ocean journey throughout the exhibit, from ships heading out to sea to ships arriving with immigrants from Europe in search of a better life in America.

In “Songs of the Sea,” visitors are treated to recordings of seafaring songs and cowboy songs, symbolizing the immigrant experience of the sea voyage to western expansion into the country’s prairies.

The transatlantic slave trade is represented by works such as “Sea Sick”, a multimedia piece created in 2014 by Nick Cave. Ancient paintings of ships at sea surround a racist stereotypical tobacco jar flanked by raised cast iron hands and topped with a wall hanging depicting a golden plastic ship.

“In American Waters: The Sea in American Painting” debuted at the Peabody Essex Museum earlier this year. It will remain on view at Crystal Bridges until January 31.

Tickets for the exhibit cost $ 12. However, it is free for museum members, participants in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance program, veterans, and visitors 18 and under.

However, until Sunday the museum will celebrate its 10th anniversary by waiving admission fees for all visitors.

A multi-author illustrated book published by Crystal Bridges and the University of Arkansas Press accompanies the exhibition.

Several exhibition-related events are scheduled for tonight, including a preview for teachers at 5:30 p.m. and an opening conference at 7:00 p.m. A complete schedule of programs is posted at

As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the museum requires that all visitors ages 2 and older, as well as staff, wear face coverings indoors and during outdoor programs. Masks are available to visitors at the entrance.

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