The oldest public art museum west of the Mississippi River, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento was established in 1885 and is now one of the leading art museums in California. The Crocker boasts noteworthy architecture, works of art by regional artists, pieces by renowned and yet-to-be-discovered artists from around the world, and exhibitions varied mediums including paintings, drawings, metal, ceramics, and photography. The museum consists of two neighboring buildings: the Crocker family mansion, purchased in 1868 and now on the National Register of Historic Places, and the contemporary Teel Family Pavilion opened in 2010.
The Crocker family has their
roots in New York and Indiana, though a number of family members made their way
to California where they established lucrative careers, which led to the
founding of the Crocker Museum. Edwin B. Crocker (1818-1875) practiced law in
Indiana, where he was an avid abolitionist, and later served as an Associate
Justice of the California Supreme Court between 1863 and 1864. Edwin’s brother,
Charles Crocker, was one of the “Big Four” investors in the Central Pacific
Railroad, which constructed part of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the
late nineteenth century. Edwin grew wealthy from his investments and work with
his brother’s railroad company. Edwin’s wife, Margaret Rhodes, devoted time to
their daughters, their church, and a number of civic causes, including
Upon Edwin’s retirement, the
Crockers dedicated their time and wealth to philanthropy. In 1868, they
purchased a home in Sacramento. They commissioned architect Seth Babson to renovate
the 1853 home into a lavish Italianate mansion and construct a multifaceted museum
on the property, which included an art gallery, natural history museum,
library, and entertainment such as a bowling alley and skating rink. While the property
transformed, the Crockers traveled Europe on a Grand Tour, which introduced
them to the finest works of art and architecture. They built the core of their
European art collection at this time, collecting Dutch, Flemish, and Italian
Baroque works. In 1872, the family moved
into their renovated home and began bringing the art gallery to life. After Edwin
died in 1875, Margaret organized the art gallery to ensure its impressive
collections would be enjoyed by all.
In 1885, Margaret deeded the E.B.
Crocker Art Gallery to the City of Sacramento and California Museum
Association. (now the Crocker Art Museum Association). She served as a Board
member and continued her philanthropic work, including sponsoring students at
art schools. The gallery was renamed the Crocker Art Museum in 1978, and in
1989, the historic mansion underwent modern renovations. The Museum expanded at
the turn of the twenty-first century to accommodate new galleries, art studios,
library, and an education center. Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects designed
a modern 125,000 square foot museum called the Teel Family Pavilion, which
opened in 2010.
The Crocker houses notable
collections of American and European art, with a focus on works by California
artists or depictions of the American west. The Museum continues to collect art
created by professional artists as well as students and local community
members. In the spirit of Margaret Crocker, the Museum offers art classes and
educational programs for all ages.