Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crocker Art Museum: Living in the Gilded Age

SACRAMENTO, CA – The letter arrived in 2008 and began, “I am the great-granddaughter of Jennie Crocker Fassett…” This is the story of how Margaret Crocker’s diamond and opal brooch made its way back to the Crocker Art Museum after 125 years. The result is a new exhibit: Treasures, Curiosities and Secrets: The Crockers and the Gilded Age on display until May 2010.

Margaret Langford, the great-granddaughter of museum founder Margaret Crocker and her brother inherited three jeweled brooches and donated them to the Crocker Art Museum. The younger Margaret carried the three brooches in her purse from Atlanta--an audacious act, given their value and worth. As they were touring the museum, they were shown a portrait of their great-grandmother circa 1877 when she was 55-years-old. They noticed in the portrait, the matriarch was wearing the actual brooch they were donating. “Margaret’s brooch seemed to encapsulate in one object, the importance and social standing of the Crockers,” said Scott A. Shields, Museum Chief Curator, “plus it’s my favorite piece in this collection.”

“It was a lot of fun to put this exhibit together,” said Shields. “The Crockers are a fascinating family.” Indeed. Case-in-point: daughter Aimee Crocker. She was an international social success, receiving widespread press for her clothing, travels, tattoos and five marriages, each to a man in his 20’s—the original cougar. Her exploits strike a Paris Hilton chord. In her 1936 autobiography I’d Do It Again she writes: “And if I could live it again, this very long life on mine, I would love to do so. And the only difference would be that I would try to crowd in still more…more places, more things, more women, more men, more love, more excitement.”

Look for more than 75 objects on display in this collection including gowns, china, furniture, personal letters, paintings and photographs. A standout is the hat collection which features an actual head of a bird of paradise, not the Hawaiian flower. A curious note is that this late 1800 fashion trend wiped out the entire population of this now-extinct bird. The result of this devastating action gave birth to the environmental group Audubon Society.

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