How many times have you meandered through a wonderful art museum only to find yourself unable to take it all in before you get burned out? You enter trying to take in every detail of every piece of art but by the time you get to the last exhibit room, the Mona Lisa starts to look like The Girl with the Pearl! I know I certainly felt that way the last time I visited the DeYoung, the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Vatican Museum…the list goes on. It was just too much of a good thing!
Packed full of treasures, the admission fees to these great venues contribute to the museum pressure as well. Entry generally doesn’t come cheaply so you want to get your money’s worth (at least I do), but I get tired, hungry and impatient with the crowds long before I get to the last exhibit.
Perhaps this is why I think the world of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Going back to 1894, the museum originally opened to share, with students and with the public, the fine collection of art that the Stanford family had acquired through their travels. Like most of us, their interests were diverse so their collections reflected this diversity – oils, photographs, sculpture, pottery, totems, canoes and more from five continents – but not so many pieces that you can’t enjoy them all.
Over time, the museum has closed a couple of times – due to damage from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake – but each time the effort has been put forth to bring the museum back better than ever.
The Rodin Collection with 200 pieces of original sculpture is one of the best in the world. The famous Yosemite paintings by Thomas Hill are regularly on display. The possessions and artwork that hung on the walls of the Stanford home can be found in the Stanford gallery. Contemporary works by Andy Warhol and many others are in the contemporary wing. There are even native American and Asian pieces to be found as well.
One time I was there, I was very excited to see a collection of photographs taken by Carleton Watkins on display for the first time ever. Included were some of his spectacular photographs that were circulated in Congress in the 1860’s to inspire the signing of the Yosemite Land Grant that set the groundwork for the creation of Yosemite National Park some 30 years later. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them in person!
And what did I pay for the opportunity to see all these wonderful treasures? Absolutely nothing! The Cantor Art Center at Stanford is absolutely free! Yep. You just have to show up on a Wednesday through Sunday between 11:00 and 5:00 when the doors are wide open to anyone who wants to walk through. You can’t beat it.
As if the great content and the great price weren’t enough, the Cool Café on site is fantastic as well. The border on their menu reads “Organic. Seasonal. Local. Sustainable. Ultimately Delicious.” and I couldn’t agree more. I have eaten there many times and have never been disappointed. In fact, the same philosophy that they apply to their menu items holds true for their wine and beer selections as well. Last time I was there, every wine on the small wine list was rated 88 or higher and all were sourced from small California wineries!
The café is open on the same days and times as the museum so sometimes I even go for the food and wine and happen to stay for the art rather than the other way around. How many museum cafeterias can you honestly say that about?
Now that my mouth is watering and I am longing to visit the latest exhibits (they never disappoint), I think I’ll head off to Stanford sometime over this coming weekend….can’t wait!