A half-century ago, a millionaire entrepreneur’s daughter set out to establish a great art museum in middle America.
At first, some in the New York or Washington art world might have laughed at Ruth Carter Stevenson or the idea of the Amon Carter Museum.
Within 20 years, she became the first woman on the National Gallery of Art board in Washington, and then its first chairwoman.
Back in Texas, she met another millionaire entrepreneur’s daughter with a dream for a great art museum in middle America.
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And so Alice Walton and the late Ruth Carter Stevenson began a friendship that saw the growth of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art here, the opening of the nationally famed Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in northwest Arkansas, and eventually the Walton Family Foundation’s astounding $20 million gift to the Carter last week.
Walton, now 67, said they met when Walton moved her cutting horse ranch to Palo Pinto County from Arkansas, about 1998. Walton would have been 49, Stevenson 74, closer to the age of Walton’s late father, Sam.
The two became fast friends “through our love of American art and traveling together,” Walton said in comments relayed by the foundation.
“This is simply a way to say thank you, Miss Ruth, for all you have done for Fort Worth, the world and the museum. … I don’t know if she was a second mom, a best friend or a mentor. Really, she was all three.”
Carter officials and curators encouraged Walton and helped her build Crystal Bridges, a striking Bentonville museum the size of the family’s Wal-Mart Supercenters but shaped in handsome cedar and glass, with glassed-in galleries bridging a tranquil Ozark mountain stream.
Just as the Carter grew from Star-Telegram and KXAS/Channel 5 founder Amon G. Carter’s collection, Crystal Bridges grew from the Waltons’ art.
Neither one of them ever needed to be in the limelight about anything. They just go about getting things done in their own wonderful way.
Karen Hixon, president of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art
San Antonio philanthropist Karen Hixon, one of Stevenson’s daughters, is now president of the Carter board.
“Mother and Alice really did have such a wonderful and unique friendship,” Hixon said by phone last week.
“Neither one of them ever needed to be in the limelight about anything. They just go about getting things done in their own wonderful way.”
27,393students toured the Amon Carter in person or through a distance-learning program in 2015.
Part of the Walton foundation’s $20 million Carter gift is meant for children’s programs.
“Alice has always been such a wonderful supporter of education,” Hixon said.
“She gives funds to bring children to the museum to have that art experience schools don’t have anymore. … We’ll be able to do that and a lot more.”
Thanks to both the Carters and Waltons.