Monday, December 20, 2010
New and old in Old Sacramento
It's a fresh-scrubbed winter day and I'm scuffing my feet through mounds of vivid yellow leaves in Sacramento's Crocker Park and wishing I'd brought my niece's little girls with me. They love this kind of day. I hadn't been to the neighborhood around Old Sacramento (or Old Sac, as locals dub it) for ages when my pal Lucy invited me to tour the new Crocker Art Museum expansion. That is enough to pull me out of the winter doldrums and into the brisk air.
" The new 3-story addition to the oldest Museum in the West is dazzling!" says the writer on tripadvisor.com. Of course, I don't take their word for it--I have to check it out myself. Turns out, they're pretty much right on. The Crocker holds more than 14,000 original pieces of art, everything from drawings, paintings, and sculpture to ceramics, including an amazing exhibit there now—The Vase and Beyond: the Sindey Swidler Collection of the Contemporary Vessel, thru April 10,2011. I've known and loved the museum for years for its famed collections of California art, and I never miss a chance to gaze at the amazing, massive California landscapes like Thomas Hill's Great Canyon of the Sierra, Yosemite, 1871.
And I've always loved the original, jewel-like museum building itself— an exquisite and grand Italianate mansion. But it always felt cramped and a bit dark to me, the kind of place where art is a thing of the dusty past.
Now, the new expansion (opened in October), gives this museum more air, light, and the space to really showcase its incredible collections, many of which have been unseen by the public since their acquisitions. The gleaming 125,000-square-foot Teel Family Pavilion, is a classic, contemporary design. Whether it, indeed complements the historic structures is in the eye of the beholder; indisputably, it more than triples the museum's former size and makes it a better visitor destination.
This month, besides the ceramic exhibit, there's a Classical Concert on Dec. 19 (3 PM), and a Kwanzaa Family Festival on Dec. 26 (12-4). There's a ton of stuff for kids and familes, including studio art classes (wisely divided by age groupings). Don't miss Drop, Yak, Splat! A museum adventure for families each Second Saturday at 1 PM and Third Sunday at 11 AM.
If you have time for a casual bite, and have the kids along, try the fine new Crocker Cafe, run by Bobbin and Patrick Mulvaney, proprietors of Mulvaney’s B&L, Next Door, and Culinary Specialists Catering. Today, I want a more formal, white table cloth experience, so I meet my pal Lucy at The Firehouse, just a short walk away in Old Sac. I start with a cup of the creamy and rich heirloom squash-crab bisque, enlivened by a tiny crabcake in the center, then opt for the chicken Marsala in a heady, wine-infused demi-glace. Lucy has the sea scallops, with pancetta and a watercress pear salad. Both winners. As I look at the whorls of sauce draped across my entree, I can't help thinking that, in the right hands, even lunch can be an artistic experience.
Details: Crocker Art Museum, 916/ 808-7000; The Firehouse, 112 Second St. Old Sac., book at 916/442-4772. For more lodging and dining info, check out the Sacramento Discover Gold site.