When considering Sacramento and California history, Sutter’s Fort stands out as an essential landmark. The historic western outpost is depicted in a Jo Mora painting that the California State Library will unveil Thursday as a new addition to its collection. On Insight, Beth Ruyak talked to Curator of Special Collections Gary Kurutz about why this painting is unique (and why you should plan a visit to the State Library).
The painting depicts John C Fremont and his team coming into Sutter’s Fort after a rough journey across the Sierra Nevada mountains. Kurutz says this work is important because it references an essential facet of Western history - Westward expansion - from a California lens.
“This was the opening of the United State’s Western expansion and Fremont was the great explorer,” says Kurutz. “The pathfinder, they called him. He was there to extend Manifest Destiny into California.”
The painting was owned most recently by Herb Kaplan, an antiquarian bookseller. Kurtuz recounted first seeing the painting at a dinner party at Kaplan’s home and never forgetting it.
“I saw it there and I thought, oh my goodness, that is just fabulous,” says Kurtuz.
Kaplan and his wife have since passed away, and their daughter recently went through the process of breaking up their estate. Kurutz asked her about the painting and possible donation.
“I said, this is such a great and iconic event in the state of California’s history,” he says. “And she agreed to that.”
The library is also welcoming two bronze status to its collection donated by historian Joe Nardoni. Both depict the Pony Express and its riders, and one is a miniature of the famed Pony Express statue in Old Sacramento.
Kurutz says that identifying important pieces of California’s history is arguably the most important function of the state library - and it’s not just written material. The library has a collection of thousands of visual media works that depict important events in California’s past.
“We’re kind of like the library of congress for California,” says Kurutz. “We’ve been in business since 1850, and we’ve been trying to document the state’s history ever since.”
The California State Library is open to visitors interested in checking out its visual and print collections . It’s located at 900 N Street in downtown Sacramento from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday.