A mosaic made up of brightly colored insects and butterflies
“Exquisite Creatures” features artist and naturalist Christopher Marley's three-dimensional mosaics from butterflies, beetles and other animal, mineral and plant specimens. It's on display at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art through July 29. (Photo by Juliana Goodwin)

To read this story, please sign in with your email address and password.

You've read all your free stories this month. Subscribe now and unlock unlimited access to our stories, exclusive subscriber content, additional newsletters, invitations to special events, and more.


Bentonville, Arkansas, is always a fun getaway, but now through July 29 there’s even more reason to visit.

You must see Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s special exhibit “Exquisite Creatures,” which features the work of artist and naturalist Christopher Marley. He creates three-dimensional mosaics from butterflies, beetles and other animal, mineral and plant specimens. Marley crafts stunning geometric designs out of these creatures. His work is something to savor.

From the exhibit’s scope to its beauty and size, it far exceeded our expectations.

A kaleidoscope of beetles, a wave of sea urchins

Colorful sea urchins create the image of a wave on a triptych
“Stippled Urchin Triptych” is a triptych made up of sea urchins and sand dollars. It's part of “Exquisite Creatures,” a special exhibit of work by Christopher Marley at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Photo by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

There are moments where you feel like you’re looking through a kaleidoscope but glossy, vibrant colored beetles make the shapes. On another piece, sea urchins are meticulously placed to create a wave sweeping across the canvas. From a distance, some pieces look like stained glass or vivid beads, but they’re lustrous bugs.

Marley works with moths, seashells, chameleons, exotic fish, flowers, shells, rocks and much more.

Nature-loving kids will adore the large snake exhibit and an absolutely enormous roly-poly. It’s bigger than a lobster and there’s a giant lobster on display, too.

From the Amazonian and Borneo rainforests to butterflies in Costa Rica and deadly Puff Adders from Africa, the display of creatures spans the globe.

From fashion model to artist

Marley’s foray into art is unusual. He fell in love with the world as he traveled around it in his younger years as a fashion model. As he traveled, he became aware of nature’s beauty, fragility and how intertwined its creatures are.

Marley does not kill these insects or amphibians to make art but collects them after they die of natural or incidental causes. A web of people around the world gathers specimens for him. It’s one of the best exhibits we’ve seen in a long time and everyone in the gallery was muttering oohs and ahhs and they meandered through.

You cannot miss this exquisite exhibit.

A mosaic made up of butterflies
Artist and naturalist Christopher Marley creates three-dimensional mosaics from butterflies, beetles and other animal, mineral and plant specimens. His work is on display at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art through July 29. (Photo by Juliana Goodwin)

Exquisite Creatures continues until July 29 at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Tickets are $12 for adults; veterans and children 18 and younger are free. Museum members are free. If conditions are cool enough, explore the outdoor art installations and trails around the museum. Depending on when you go, there’s an evening outdoor summer concert series on the grounds.

Once you’re in Bentonville, there are a plethora of wonderful restaurants and activities. Here are a few to consider.

Bentonville offers fun for the whole family

A wooly mammoth skeleton
The wooly mammoth skeleton makes an immediate impression at the entrance to the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, Arkansas. (Photo by Juliana Goodwin)

The Museum of Native American History spans 14,000 years of history and the wooly mammoth at the entrance makes an immediate impression. The facility houses Native American paintings and artifacts including an expansive collection of arrowheads. Outside, fake arrowheads are planted in the rocks for kids to dig around and find one to keep. Very cute idea.

Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. The Museum of Native American History is closed on Sunday and Monday.

Kids love the Scott Family Amazeum, a 50,000-square-foot children’s museum. They can explore science, climb, squeeze through an indoor cave, scan groceries in a pretend store, manipulate a SpongeBob puppet, sing, splash around with water features and more. Children 2 and older through adults are $14. The Amazeum is closed on Tuesdays. If you’re a member of the Discovery Center in Springfield, they have a reciprocity admission for up to five people. Proof of residency is required. Bring your membership card.

Bentonville is an incredibly bike-friendly city. There are 70 miles of trails in the city connected to another 400 miles around northwest Arkansas. Mountain bikers love this area but casual bikers can go for a ride, too. Bike Bentonville is a great resource and has an active Facebook group. Or get out and take a tour with Oz Cycling Tours.

Saturdays from 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. you’ll find the Bentonville Farmers Market on the Square. The downtown is lined with vendors selling jams, bread, mushrooms, produce, jerky, soaps, dog treats, coffee and more. There’s also live music and it’s a lot of fun.

Explore dining in Bentonville

A small airplane prepares to land
Louise Cafe is located at Thaden Field in Bentonville, Arkansas, giving diners the opportunity to watch small planes take off and land. (Photo by Juliana Goodwin)

In terms of dining, Louise Cafe at Thaden Field is perfect for families. Located in front of a small airport, kids can watch small planes land and take off. The restaurant is named for Iris Louise McPhetridge Thaden (1905-1979), a pioneering female aviator. The Bentonville native set many aviation records. Louise Cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and brunch, and has indoor and outdoor seating. The burgers are killer! Just outside the restaurant are a pond, trails and a playground. It’s a great spot for families with young kids.

Located downtown, Table Mesa Bistro serves modern Latin fusion fare with dishes like a yellow curry burrito with avocado and corn; Korean barbecue chicken salad; ceviche with ahi, salmon and jicama; and killer queso dip. There are lots of delicious vegetarian options and menu items. The strawberry basil margarita is pure bliss. Table Mesa Bistro is very popular, so you may have to wait.

A great breakfast spot (or light lunch) is Crêpes Paulette, which serves authentic handheld crêpes. The menu features sweet crêpes like strawberry Nutella, savory like Thai peanut chicken and innovative sweet and savory options. These are not super filling but they are delicious.

Tavola Trattoria is a wonderful downtown Italian restaurant with spongy focaccia, rich marinara, fabulous vodka sauce and an extensive menu. The chicken marsala is exceptional and our go-to. The Tavola ravioli with blue crab, parsnip cream and white port is a lovely dish.

Crêpes wrapped in white deli paper sit in silver cans
Crêpes Paulette serves authentic hand-held crêpes in Bentonville, Arkansas. The menu includes sweet and savory crêpes. (Photo by Crêpes Paulette)

They have delicious children’s lunch items like pasta or personal pizzas. This is a popular restaurant but it’s worth the wait (lunch is not as busy as dinner and prices are cheaper).

Bentonville has several breweries and bars worth visiting, from Bike Rack Brewing to Bentonville Brewing Company. Wine lovers can explore Ramo D’Olivo or Barley & Vine for beer and wine lovers. Here’s a list of other options in town.

Juliana Goodwin

Juliana Goodwin is a freelance journalist with experience covering business, travel and tourism, health, food and history. She is a former Food and Travel Columnist for the Springfield News-Leader, a former business reporter for The Joplin Globe, and has written for USA Today and Arkansas Living Magazine, among others. More by Juliana Goodwin