I like to think of myself as an art lover, an appreciator of fine paintings, a sage head-nodder in the gallery. I sometimes stand for ages looking at small details on masterpieces with a well-practiced face that says “knower of his shit”. In truth I’m always a bit overwhelmed by great epic works of art, in awe of them though I am, and they don’t always inspire me as much as turn me into a scratcher of head. Actually I must confess I do love modern art, and visit the Tate Modern almost every time I go back to London. I did do art for my GCSE back in school and got an A, but when I did it at A-Level I got a D, largely because (I felt afterwards) I spent a lot of time in galleries and not enough time drawing. And in those galleries, my favourite parts were always the gift shop, where you could see all the famous paintings in small postcard size. It’s probably why I draw so small. When it comes to art history, once I get past Picasso, Van Gogh and Mondrian, I always feel like a bit of a beginner. Though I did enjoy learning about the Futurists and their Manifesto when I was at university. So despite doing art every day of my life, I don’t often make enough time to go to galleries.
Anyway, after living here for almost a decade I finally went to Sacramento’s amazing Crocker Art Museum a couple of weeks ago. It was actually on the recommendation of my seven-year old son (who was still six at the time), who had been there before and wanted to show me the statue of the man with the really small head. The Crocker is great! The older part, housed inside the large mansion you see in my panorama on the left, has amazing interiors, as well as a thoroughly impressive collection of art. The Crocker Art Museum was actually the first of its kind in the Western United States, being established in 1885 by Judge E.B. Crocker and his wife Margaret. The Crockers were one of those wealthy families that helped shape California in the post-Gold-Rush era; Judge Crocker’s brother Charles was one of the big railroad barons in the late nineteenth century, and going by their portraits these people like to shave their cheeks, but had enormous beards on their chins, predating the 1990s turning-thirty-goatee look by well over a century. The European collection is astonishing, with some oil paintings by Dutch masters such as, um, er (you see? Beginner) depicting canals and light, and one depicting a bishop standing being all holy while a woman calmly squirts milk from her breast directly into his face. Yes, this centuries old painting had me giggling like my fifteen year old GCSE art self would have done. There was some amazing work by Californian artists, as well as ceramics by UC Davis’s own art legend Robert Arneson, plus historical artifacts from across the globe, some of which were thousands of years old. There was some breathtaking modern art, and an exhibition of Mexican art, and indeed we did find the hilarious statue of the man with the tiny head that had delighted my son. It was very funny, but not as funny as the bishop with the milky face.
The large white modern wing, in the right of my panorama sketch, was opened in 2010 and is called the Teel Family Pavilion. My son was excited to tell me that they have tables where you can eat your snacks. His previous visit you see had been as a group with his daycare, and I’m so glad his first visit was, well, with his mates rather than with his parents, because you get a better appreciation for such places with your friends and peers, who can laugh at small heads, than with your boring folks who seem to find amusement in bishops and breasts. We did find the other area downstairs which is dedicated to kids, a whole room full of interactive art activities like a touchscreen to create digital abstract art, tables full of coloured paper and shiny tape where we made some fancy paper airplanes, oh and a large board with shaped colourful magnets where I had the most fun ever, as you can see.
So impressed was I with our afternoon at the Crocker that I came back the next day to sketch the outside. I was inspired, not by the Flemish landscapes, nor by lactose-tolerant priests, nor even by unusually miniscule faces, but by a pencil drawing, an urban sketch of that very mansion. It was dated from the 1880s, I think, and apart from the 21st century appendage it looked pretty much as it does today. After seeing that sketch, I just HAD to draw it myself. It was on a Monday, which was a holiday, the museum was closed so there weren’t a lot of cars parked blocking my view across the street, so I stood listening to the Football Weekly podcast and added to my own burgeoning collection of panoramas.
Visit the Crocker’s website at: http://crockerartmuseum.org/