Good Morning, NYTimes photo by Deborah Fagan CArpenter
Good Morning, NYTimes photo by Deborah Fagan CArpenter

A large green penguin might deliver the New York Times to your door at 21C Museum Hotel in Bentonville, Arkansas. A flock of the whimsical plastic birds dwell there, and are only one piece of the extensive art collection that is the signature of the quickly growing chain of boutique hotels. The penguins, created by Cracking Art Group, artists dedicated to raising environmental awareness, appear at each 21C location dressed in a different color.

Contemporary art by emerging and internationally recognized twenty-first century artists is the origin of the hotel’s name. Passionate collectors, Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, opened the first 21C in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky in 2006 as a means of making contemporary art a part of everyday lives, and also as a way to help the revitalization efforts of their struggling downtown. The progressive couple wanted their hotel to be a “union of genuine Southern hospitality, thoughtful design, and culinary creativity — all anchored by world-class contemporary art.” The innovative hotel was immediately successful and gained national recognition, which led to plans for expansion.

Hotel Art photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Hotel Art photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

Enticed by the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville was a natural fit to become 21C’s second location, which is only a short walk from the museum. Captivating original sculpture and installations fill not only the hotel’s community spaces, which are open to the public 24/7, but original paintings hang in each guest room as well. Designed by architect Deborah Berke, the rooms are contemporary, spacious and fitted with plush, sumptuous linens.

Noticeable energy is generated throughout the hotel by the provocative art which both engages and stimulates a response from its viewers. Guests connect with each other as they scrutinize the work, which takes a creative look at universal topics like poverty and environmentalism. Even the charming green penguins are a statement about our use of petroleum, which is the substance from which their plastic is born.

A penguin is likely to join you at dinner, as they are eager to participate in the patron’s culinary experience. Each hotel in the chain has its own unique restaurant, and The Hive, under the exciting culinary direction of Chef Matthew McClure delights diners at 21C Bentonville. Chef McClure serves up “refined country cuisine” not only to the hotel guests, but to an ever growing crowd of local and regional diners. As with all the hotel restaurants, The Hive strives to present inventive menus based on products grown and produced regionally, and each delicious meal is highlighted with a complementary parfait dish of cotton candy in the hotel’s signature color, “penguin green.”

Cone Tiger photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Cone Tiger photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

Animals gracing the walls of The Hive are all exquisite art creations made of repurposed materials. An elk head by American artist, Ken Little is fashioned out of discarded shoes, while a Moosehead by another American artist, Johnston Foster is an assemblage of wooden chair parts. Johnston Foster is also the artist responsible for creating the life-sized tiger, “The Keeper,” made from traffic barrels, bicycle spokes, garden hose and plastic cutting boards.

Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter
Photo by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

21C Bentonville has hosted an array of well-known celebrities in its nine-month life, but the biggest celebrities of all may just be the jolly green penguins. The enjoyment of an overnight stay at the innovative, quirky, and comfortable hotel is enhanced by the presence of the entertaining fowl, as they are a constant reminder of the creative experience that is at its core. And just as they were on hand to welcome you, they’ll be standing on the roof at the end of your stay to bid you adieu.

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