Art students take a trip to Crystal Bridges Museum

By Penny Thieme


On the morning of Friday, Nov. 1, Mark Cowardin, fine art department chair and sculpture professor, Misha Kligman, assistant professor of fine art (painting and drawing) and 13 art students piled into two vans and drove 3 ½ hours south, to Bentonville, Arkansas, to see a world-class American art collection and museum.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is located on 120 acres laced with four miles of trails. The museum was designed by Moshe Safdie, the same architect who designed the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. The museum is known for their world-class collection of American art and the harmonious interfacing of art, architecture and nature.

Friday, Nov. 1, sculpture students from Johnson County Community College look at a wood relief sculpture during a visit to Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas, (Left to right) Kira Auchenbach and Gaylin Nicholson (Special Topics: Wood Sculpture), Leon Jones (Special Topics: Wood Sculpture), Daniel Towle (Sculpture 2), and Rich Herbst (Sculpture 2). Photo by Penny Thieme

Kira Auchenbach, sculpture student, discussed why she wanted to go on the trip.

“I just want more experience in the art world,” Auchenbach said. “I want to see all I can, experience all I can and get all the life experiences I can. I liked that the three main pillars of the museum were centered on architecture, nature and art. It was incredible, it was a lot to take in at one time….There were a lot of pieces that were really impactful.”

Friday, Nov. 1, Johnson County Community college students Hazel Ingram (Left) and Alyssa Sipe (Center) and professor Misha Kligman (Right) view work in the Modern Art Gallery at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Ingram is an advanced student taking Independent Study with Kligman. Her goal this semester is to develop a more mature body of work. She feels attending art events, the level of instruction and the support she gets from the college are shaping her as an artist. Seeing the art and practices of other artists helps students like Ingram expands their knowledge and refine their own art practice.

Cowardin said he and Kligman wanted students from various fine art, photography and film classes to get to know each other and have fun. 

“We periodically take students to art venues outside of the school,” Kligman said. “We do that to expose the students to new work and ideas, experience art in person and to get to know the very diverse art scene in Kansas City and the region.”

Friday, Nov. 1, Kira Auchenbach tours the Crystal Bridges Museum. Auchenbach is a sculpture student who attends every art event she can. She thinks others need to take full advantage of trips like this. She recommends students leave their cell phones at home and bring along sketchbooks instead. Especially, at places like Crystal Bridges with all the art in the galleries and so many nature trails to explore. Auchenbach is serious about making art but is having a blast learning and discovering the possibilities for her as an artist. Being she is primarily a 3-D artist (so far), her favorite part of the trip was being with the other students and seeing how other artists deal with space in their work. She is already thinking of how their techniques can be incorporated into her own work. Photo by Penny Thieme

Students arrived at the museum before noon. They explored the museum’s galleries and nature trails, met for lunch in the museum’s café, Eleventhen spent more time viewing the art. They finished off the trip with a visit to the acclaimed 21C Museum Hotelate dinner together and drove back to the college. Students were only responsible for paying for their food. Auchenbach said the conversation was lively on the long drive home as everyone was excited to share their experiences and realizations with one another.

Friday, Nov. 1, Sculpture professor Mark Cowardin discusses Alphabet/Good Humor, a painted fiberglass and bronze sculpture by Claes Oldenburg with art with students during a field trip to Crystal Bridges Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo by Penny Thieme

“We have plans to take students on more field trips in the spring semester. We envision this happening regularly, where students get to see how art is made in the studios of artists and [how it] is exhibited in the world. After all, that’s what our students are trying to figure out for themselves how to do. Our job as artists, teachers or mentors is to get students excited about art and its possibilities, and to demythologize it to some degree,” Kligman said.

“We want to make the possibility of being an artist real for everybody who’s trying to become one. Our field trips are simply one of the ways we’re going about it. Each museum is, of course, very different. Each space is curated with a different vision in mind and a very particular mission.  The Crystal Bridges has an expansive collection of modern art, as well as contemporary art that the students got a chance to experience.”

Sculpture professor Mark Cowardin discusses Azure Icicle Chandelier, the blown glass and steel sculpture Dale Chihuly sculpture at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photo by Penny Thieme

“I feel that field trips like these really helps to demystify the idea of going to museums and galleries. Experiencing inspiring works in inspiring places is exciting. Misha and I really want to share this,” Cowardin said. “There are also a number of other day trips that could happen if there are exciting exhibitions…places like Omaha, Des Moines. and St. Louis will likely have to be an overnight trip, which will come at a cost for students. But we are working on ways to make that happen.”

Story by Penny Thieme



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