Inside Alice Walton’s World: from a Penny “Blue Nude” Reproduction to Golden Bridges
January 29th, 2014 by Alisa Sava
Alice Walton, Sam and Helen Walton’s youngest of four children, is one of three heirs to the world-famous corporation WalMart. She is the second richest woman in the USA with a fortune of $33.5 billion. However, today Alice Walton is no longer just a WalMart co-owner. She has become a prolific art collector and philanthropist as well as a generous benefactor of her native state.
In 2012, Time Magazine named Alice Walton as one of the influential people who “inspires us, entertains us, challenges us and changes our world.” And it is really so: Alice’s fortune, sophisticated flair for art and urge to improve let her achieve phenomenal results – she has managed to transform her small native city into a famous world destination.
“With Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Alice Walton has placed a daring bet that a small town can become a big art-world destination. We’ re betting she’s right,” notes Richard Lacayo, the TIME’s art critic.
Education and Professional Background
1971- Alice Walton graduated from Trinity University (San Antonio, Texas). There she studied economics and finance.
WalMart – Alice worked with the company for a short time as a children’s clothes buyer: “They are still trying to get rid of children’s dresses I bought, and that was a while back. I had fun, but it wasn’t my interest,” Alice told in one interview to the New Yorker.
First Commerce Corporationwas Alice’s first real place of work. On her personal website Alice says that she “began her career in finance as an equity analyst and money manager for First Commerce Corporation.”
1982-1988 – Alice Walton worked as Vice Chairman of Arvest Bank Group.
In 1988, Alice founded Llama Company, a regional investment company. The company was named after a llama that the magnate J.B. Hunt once bought for Walton.
In 1990, Alice became the first chairperson in the Northwest Arkansas Council and played a major role in the development of the Northwest Arkansas Airport.
In 1996, the University of Arkansas established the Alice L. Walton Chair in Finance to promote the quality of education on national and international levels.
Camp War Eagle – a unique summer camp in Arkansas founded by Alice Walton. It brings together children of different socio-economic backgrounds.
2011 – Alice Walton opened the Crystal Bridge Museum of American Art – the project of her dreams.
Besides the work for Crystal Bridges, Alice Walton also collaborated with the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas and is the trustees’ council member of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Today, Alice Walton’s participation in Wal-Mart affairs is confined to annual general meetings of shareholders. Now, she fully devotes herself to the museum collection and keeping horses at her own ranch.
When a Small Town Becomes a Leading Art-World Destination
Alice Walton started collecting art when she was 11 and bought a reproduction of “Blue Nude” by Picasso for 25 cents. She paid for it from her savings accumulated over five weeks selling popcorn. It is a common fact, that major museums usually appear in major cities where there is a lot of people and money convergence. But, at 62 Alice Walton doesn’t care about this rule. Being one of the wealthiest women in the world, she decided to place her museum wherever she wants. And she put it in Bentonville, Arkansas, the town where she grew up.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was opened in 2011 with grandiose celebration. Crystal Bridges takes its name from the unique bridge construction incorporated into the building design. The design of the museum was made by the famous Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. Throughout the museum, Safdie’s interior concept provides unique views of the landscape and opportunity for guests to relax and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding nature.
Having a flair for collecting valuable art, Alice Walton has managed to create a magnificent collection of artwork. The museum’s unique collection includes the works of Warhol, Rothko, Pollock, as well as other masterpieces from renowned artists. The entire collection is valued at more than $500 million.
In July 2013, Alice Walton was named one of the top ten art collectors in the world, according to the ARTNews magazine. This title reflects the sheer amount of purchases of renowned and most expensive works of art in the world.
In August 2013, Crystal Bridges welcomed its millionth visitor, which is an unprecedented result for a museum that opened less than two year ago and located in small city with a population of 40,000 people. This is possible due to several reasons. First, the building itself deserves attention from an architecture point of view. Second, Walton has managed to attract people’s attention by building her collection smartly and aggressively.
“Walton’s collection provided a sort of instant museum. You usually don’t have a museum that appears out of nowhere,” says Henry Adams, an art history professor at Case Western Reserve University, who ranked Crystal Bridges “somewhere between the top and the middle.”
Moreover, Alice Walton has elaborated a clever strategy of attracting discount airline companies to Arkansas. This has opened easier access to this area and supported the constant flow of visitors. Beautiful landscapes surround the Museum, which adds an additional value to the project.
“There aren’t many places where you can go and experience this glorious park setting, this natural landscape, and then discover a great museum both architecturally and collection-wise,” says Crystal Bridges director Don Bacigalupi.
In June 2013, Alice Walton became a Headliner of the Year by the Arkansas Press Association. She was named so because of the positive press coverage about Arkansas State thanks to Crystal Bridges. Previously, this title was given to Bill Clinton and Sam Walton.
Bones, Brains, and Balance – Three Things Common between Art and Horses
Alice Walton is a very reserved person if it concerns her private life, but she is open about her passions: art, ranching and horses. Alice spends most of her time on the Rocking W Ranch in Mineral Wells, Texas, breeding horses and preparing rice and beans for her “family” – the permanent workers at the ranch. Being an avid horse-lover, Alice Walton says that there is a lot in common between horses and art:
“I have found that most horse people are art lovers, and vice versa. I think it is more of an intuitive, circular kind of personality, for starters. And, as I say of horses, the secret to breeding great horses is the three ‘B’s: bones, brains, and balance. If you look at art, it shares some of the same qualities.”
Where Does Alice Walton Live?
It may seem strange for some that Alice Walton lives in a small house built in the middle of the ranch. But for Alice, living in her ranch, raising horses and performing philanthropic duties is a style of life. Being a billionaire, Alice Walton’s house has a simple design and is free of luxurious trendy things. Her house includes fireplaces and open air space where she enjoys barbecue in wintertime.
Having a possibility to buy the most expansive property that one can only imagine, Alice Walton prefers living her simple life by spending all her money on valuable works of art and philanthropic activity. Many critics say that the money spent on Crystal Bridges would be enough to buy houses for every inhabitant of Bentonville. But, in spite of all the criticism, Alice strongly believes in her ideals. She sees majesty and mystery in the paintings presented in her museum.
“It is really all about the American spirit. I guess we are a part of that story as well. What my father has done is a part of that. It is the ability to be the best you can be, and to take the opportunity that we have in this country to grow and learn and be the very best we can, and to help other people.”
Alice Walton about her dream – building the Crystal Bridges Museum, watch the video: