The first public art museum founded in the Western United States, the Crocker Art Museum is still one of the leading museums in California today. If being the oldest art museum west of the Mississippi sounds like a stodgy claim to fame, forget about it. This is one vibrant, eclectic, fascinating, and altogether of-the-moment museum, with an unparalleled collection of both historic and contemporary art.
First, the historic. The original Crocker Museum was a gift to the city, a move by Margaret Crocker, heiress of the fabulously wealthy Crocker family, to let the people of Sacramento have permanent access to her family’s astounding personal galleries, housed in an Italianate mansion a pleasant stroll from the Capitol building. The elegant building, as well as the adjacent family home, still showcase that collection, which includes European works as well as the Californian collection, now considered one of the finest of its kind in the United States.
Over time, the collection grew to include an amazing wealth of international ceramics, sculptures, and works by contemporary California artists, many who taught at nearby U.C. California at Davis. Fast forward to 2010, when a dramatic new gallery space, the ultra-modern Teel Family Pavilion, was added to the 1800s-era Crocker compound, a bold and visually stunning move. These wide open, naturally lit gallery spaces have become the home of the contemporary collection, and they are your chance to see original works by some of the state’s finest artists. Here, experience black-and-white originals by the celebrated photographer Ansel Adams—the difference of seeing his real images of Yosemite’s Half Dome versus a poster replica is breathtaking. Over there are Wayne Thiebaud’s whimsical paintings of pie, or sculptor Roy Arneson’s wacky ceramic head.
The Crocker caters well to families too: Areas like Tot Land and The Story Trail help kids of all ages engage with the art in fun ways, and standing events like Wee Wednesday and Sunday Playday offer hands-on activities. Check the museum calendar for drop-in events where kids can sketch with guidance from an art teacher, or parents and caregivers can escort tiny ones on the Baby Loves Art gallery walk. Altogether, the Crocker, old and new, creates one of the best experiences in California’s surprising capital city.