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"In American Waters" explores ocean’s impact on American culture


Bentonville, Ark. - Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announces the opening of In American Waters: The Sea in American Painting, on view from Nov. 6, 2021, through Jan. 31, 2022. Exhibition tickets are $12 for adults and free to members, SNAP participants, veterans and youth 18 and under. Tickets for 2021 can be purchased here, and 2022 tickets can be purchased here.

The mystery and power of the sea has inspired artists for more than 200 years to capture its beauty, violence, poetry, and transformative power in American life. The exhibition features over 100 works from a diverse range of historical, modern and contemporary artists including Thomas Hart Benton, Paul Cadmus, Nick Cave, Stuart Davis, Valerie Hegarty, Barkley Hendricks, Fitz Henry Lane, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Willson Peale, William Trost Richards, Norman Rockwell, Amy Sherald, Gilbert Stuart, Kay WalkingStick, Hale Woodruff and many more.

In American Waters: The Sea in American Painting was co-curated by Austen Barron Bailly, chief curator, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and Daniel Finamore, The Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History, Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Mass. In American Waters debuted at PEM May 29-Oct. 3, 2021 before arriving at Crystal Bridges.

In American Waters gives us an opportunity to explore how water plays a dynamic role in our lives and how artists explore ways to depict nature and humanity in relation to this precious resource; water is something that is near and dear to us at Crystal Bridges, a museum designed in relationship to, and surrounded by, the waters of Northwest Arkansas,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer. “Through this exhibition, we are able to reexamine American history, life on our rivers, lakes, and streams, and the power of the ocean through the work of a diverse range of artists. We are pleased to have the opportunity to partner with Peabody Essex Museum to create such a lively exhibition.”

Salem sits on a harbor leading out to the Atlantic Ocean, and Bentonville is a landlocked town surrounded by creeks, rivers and lakes. Residents of each city may share different relationships with the sea, but this exhibition explores the idea that the ocean plays a key role in American society, no matter where one lives.

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

This exhibition expands traditional conceptions of marine art to show that it is more than ship portraits. One of the works in the Crystal Bridges collection, Precious jewels by the sea (2019) by Amy Sherald, is a monumental painting depicting four Black teenagers at the beach. Sherald’s new kind of marine painting represents her desire to make “images of “things we normally do but don’t get to see in places like museums… It’s about creating American narratives about American people.”

“To look anew at American marine painting, we studied and analyzed its colonial and Eurocentric origins and found that the genre is far more dynamic and broad than previously assumed,” Bailly said. “Many artists today engage deeply with the sea and its histories as they continue and reimagine American art traditions.”


In American Waters presents an alluring array of artists who convey the inherent relevance of the sea, picturing its environments over and over in their artworks. The waves of time and politics that wash over American marine painting have not swallowed up the past and its stories but continually wash them onto the shores of our lives and imaginations to reveal the eternal impact of the sea in American life.

Crystal Bridges offers engagements throughout the exhibition to provide diverse forms of assess to the art experiences. For more information click HERE.

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