What does it mean to be an American? Artists across the country have explored that question, from Norman Rockwell’s classic scenes of American life to Andy Warhol’s pop art.
Groups can ponder the question for themselves as they take in famous works from impressionists to social realists at these five American art museums.
Butler Institute of American Art
At a time when serious art aficionados were traveling to Europe to buy art, Joseph Butler Jr. collected American art. The result became the first museum dedicated to American art: the Butler Institute of American Art.
Opened in 1919, the museum celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Known as America’s Museum, the site grew over the years from 34 works donated by Butler to today’s collection of more than 20,000 pieces in all media, spanning four centuries of work.
The museum’s Beecher Center was the first museum addition dedicated solely to new media and electronic art. The Bitonte Skywalk connects the museum to the Butler North Education Center, where groups can see the Americana Collection and sign up for an art class or program.
Groups can opt for a tour to focus on the museum’s highlights, such as Winslow Homer’s “Snap the Whip” or William Gropper’s “Youngstown Strike.” The museum also offers a gift shop, a cafe and a fine art gallery.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art strives to unite nature and art. The museum takes its name from a nearby natural spring and the bridge motif incorporated in the building’s architecture.
A glass-and-wood design by Moshe Safdie complements the surrounding creek-fed ponds and forest trails with a series of pavilions. Inside, the elegant building spans five centuries of American masterpieces from the Colonial era to the current day.
Guests can view acclaimed works by Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe and Jackson Pollock, among others. Outdoors, the art continues with 3.5 miles of walking trails linking sculptures, such as Leo Villareal’s “Buckyball,” which illuminates with a light show from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
The Walton Family Foundation founded Crystal Bridges in 2005 to create a nonprofit museum free to the public. Alice Walton, philanthropist and daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, spearheaded the museum and chairs the museum’s board of directors.
Thomas Gilcrease grew up in the Creek Nation in present-day Oklahoma. His pride in his Native American heritage encouraged him to create his own American West collection, which eventually included more than 500 paintings by 20th-century Native American artists.
His collection became the bedrock for the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1958. With one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive art collections of the American West, the museum features 13,000 works of art. The museum includes Western artists such as Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington and George Catlin.
The Kravis Discovery Center uses technology to provide insights into the museum’s extensive anthropology collection from the early history of the Americas. The center’s exhibits on America’s prehistory, settlement and expansion complement the art.
Garden tours explore gardens themed to match four centuries of the American West: Pre-Columbian, Pioneer, Colonial and Victorian.
Norman Rockwell Museum
Though considered too sentimental by many critics for much of his life, Rockwell made a huge impact on the art world. His enduring illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post reflected American culture for over five decades. Groups can gain a deeper understanding of this iconic artist at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
A prolific artist, Rockwell produced more than 4,000 original works, including illustrations of more than 40 books, portraits of four presidents and 64 years of art for the Boy Scouts of America. In Rockwell’s later years, he was acclaimed for taking on more serious subjects, such as his painting on racial integration of schools titled “The Problem We All Live With.”
The museum offers 10 galleries, a gift shop and a 36-acre property. Groups can opt for a more personalized guided tour, such as the Highlights of the Collection Tour. The Plein Air Art Experience invites participants to create their own artwork to take home.
Andy Warhol Museum
Most people know about Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup cans pop art. But the multitalented artist developed many unusual art techniques, including illustrations using a complicated blotted line technique. These works and more make up the comprehensive Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
One of the largest museums dedicated to a single artist, the Andy Warhol Museum features more than 1,000 prints, 4,000 photographs and 900 paintings. Seven floors of exhibits cover Warhol’s life, works and rotating exhibits from other artists.
Over the course of his life, Warhol amassed a collection of moving images, films, paintings, screen prints and music videos. Along with his lesser-known works, groups can see some of the images that made Warhol a household name, such as the larger-than-life “Elvis 11 Times” and “Campbell’s Soup Box.”
The 1911 museum building originally served as a distribution center for milling and mining equipment. Organizers chose the building due to Warhol’s fascination with “mechanical” art.
Groups can learn more about the Prince of Pop Art by attending a tour, a lecture or a film screening. The museum also offers youth programs and art classes.