Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sacramento Museums

Spent a few days in Sacramento with the Horatio Alger Society but also managed to enjoy seeing two museums I had never visited previously: the California State Railroad Museum and the Crocker Art Museum. The rail museum is modern in design, as contrasted with the finest rail collection on the East Coast--the B&O Museum in Baltimore. It traces the development of rail in the U.S. and has a good deal of rolling stock as well as several locomotives.

Also featured is a train of the future designed by Siemens and possibly the prototype for use if and when the high-speed rail linking Northern and Southern California is completed. Enjoyed walking through a Canadian National "open sleeper" with berths and then a Santa Fe dining car. Lots of rail paraphernalia and was most pleased to see a special section on the Pullman strike of 1894. That great uprising was broken by Grover Cleveland but saw a young attorney resign from representing the railroads to sign on with Eugene V. Debs and the American Railway Union: the lawyer was none other than Clarence Darrow.

The Crocker features an extensive exhibition of contemporary California painting--many artists from the later 20th and current centuries. There's also good landscape and impressionist art from the 19th century, with some nice canvases from painters who opposed the luminists by focusing on much more intimate detail, like branches of conifers. The museum's more recent curators did what appears to be a good job gathering a wide range of new and often experimental art, better than their predecessors did in focusing, for the European part of the collection, on 19th century Dutch and 18th and 19th century German. 

The American sector of the museum--by far the largest--was notable for focusing on artists not renowned or world-famous. Yes, there are paintings by Childe Hassam, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Marsden Hartley, to pick out three recognizable names, but the other Americans provide a fascinating backdrop to California's emergence. 

This is a museum where those making the acquisitions likely had a good deal to spend, as one of the books in the museum shop about one of the Crocker heirs notes that at age 12, she inherited the equivalent of $250 million. Charles Crocker himself is depicted at the railroad museum where he was recalled as one of the "Big Four" who underwrote the Central Pacific, the Western component of the first U.S. transcontinental railroad.

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