$5 million Tyson gift will establish art research program at Crystal Bridges

John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods Inc., speaks during a news conference Wednesday at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art while museum founder Alice Walton and Crystal Bridges Executive Director Don Bacigalupi listen.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

A $5 million commitment from the Tyson family and Tyson Foods Inc. will establish a research program and a lifetime achievement prize at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, officials announced Wednesday.

The Tyson Scholars program will bring a group of art scholars to the Bentonville museum each year to conduct research of American art, and provide an opportunity for them to focus on large-scale projects without the interruptions of their regular professional duties.

Other national institutions have similar programs, but Don Bacigalupi, Crystal Bridges’ executive director, said American art has historically received “too little attention” from scholars and academic programs as a field of research, and that funding for its study has been “sadly limited.”

Alice Walton speaks during Wednesday’s news conference.

Todd Gill

“Here at Crystal Bridges, we have made it part of our mission to help change this,” said Bacigalupi during a news conference at museum’s Great Hall. He said the Tyson gift will help the museum take “an historic step in fostering the scholarly study of American art.”

The Don Tyson Prize is named after the former chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods, who died in 2011. The $65,000 award, Bacigalupi said, will be presented to an individual who has demonstrated distinguished scholarship in American art.

The Tyson family’s interest in American art began with Don Tyson’s love of traditional American Western art, which he started collecting in the 1960s. His son, John Tyson, is also an avid collector who has spent the last 20 years expanding and diversifying the Tyson Foods corporate collection inside the company’s headquarters in Springdale.

The colleciton includes works by Ansel Adams, Charlie Dye, Troy Anderson, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Francis, Frank McCarthy, Harry Jackson, Charles M. Russell, Jack Woods and Andy Warhol.

“I remember one of the first collections I bought for the office was Andy Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians,” said John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, Inc.

Tyson Scholars (from left) Jason Weems, Susan Rather and Matthew Bailey stand with Kevin Murphy, curator of American art at Crystal Bridges.

Todd Gill

The unconventional piece, he said, has served as an inspiration to Tyson officials looking for different ways to do business. Art in itself, he said, can stimulate the creativity of thought in any environment.

Tyson said he hopes the research the gift will allow, along with the museum’s vast resources, will help provide a deeper appreciation of American art.

“The written word is what the scholars will do for us, but taking the written word and incorporating it with the visual world of Crystal Bridges brings the best of both together,” he said.

Alice Walton, the Crystal Bridges Museum founder, called Don Tyson a brilliant man, a visionary, and a personal mentor who provided support and advice for many projects she’s been a part of including the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Bentonville.

“It was Don I went to when I needed to find courage and when I needed support,” said Walton. “I hope that as our Tyson scholars come here year after year to study and learn, they feel that we provide that same support and courage for them as they go forward in their careers.”

Walton said she was proud Tyson’s love of art will be carried on through the award by furthering the study and interpretation of American art.

The inaugural Tyson Scholars are:

Matthew Bailey, St. Louis, Mo.

Matthew Bailey is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology and a Lynn Cooper Harvey Fellow in American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He has also held dissertation fellowships from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies and the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library.

Under the new program, Bailey will continue work on his dissertation, which examines the way artists conceptually and physically interacted with paint in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
» See full bio for Matthew Bailey (PDF)

Jason Weems, Riverside, Calif.

Dr. Weems is an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside where he specializes in American art and visual culture from the colonial period to the present. He’s held fellowships from the Huntington Library, the College Art Association/Terra Foundation for American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies.

As a Tyson Scholar, Weems will complete work on his current book manuscript, which examines the development of modern aerial vision and its effect on visual expression during the interwar years.
» See full bio for Jason Weems (PDF)

Susan Rather, Austin, Texas

Dr. Rather is a tenured member of the art history faculty in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas, Austin. There since 1986, she has taught and supervised students ranging from beginning undergraduates to doctoral candidates. As a scholar, Rather first published Archaism, Modernism and the Art of Paul Manship. Her work then began to focus on artists during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with resulting articles on John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart and others appearing in such leading journals as Art Bulletin, American Art, William and Mary Quarterly, and Eighteenth-Century Studies.

Under the new program, Rather will complete her manuscript for a book examining in depth what it meant to be an American artist during the colonial and early national era.
» See full bio for Susan Rather (PDF)