October 27, 2021
4 minute read

Towns, Trains, and Terrain: Early California Prints from the Pope Collection

Francis Ficke (American, active 20th century), published by O.W. Co., Destruction of San Francisco by Earthquake and Fire, April 18th, 1906, 1906. Chromolithograph, 10 3/4 x 35 1/4 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Peter T. Pope Early California Collection, 2019.74.46.

The Crocker Art Museum is pleased to announce Towns, Trains, and Terrain: Early California Prints from the Pope Collection, an exhibition of over 80 works that showcase details of life in the Golden State through printmaking techniques that include etching, engraving, and lithography, on view from October 31, 2021, through January 30, 2022.

Towns, Trains, and Terrain examines the history of California through rare historic maps, depictions of Gold Rush towns, urban scenes of San Francisco, and other aspects of daily life. Scenes of the city show urban development, aerial views, social gatherings, caricatures of well-known industrialists, and the destruction caused by the 1865 and 1906 earthquakes. Trains take a central role in many of the works, which focus both on the literal construction of the railroad and also the idea of a train as a connector of people and industry. Through nearly all of the works, from cartoons to cartography, visitors will see the evolution of California’s landscape during multiple periods of growth and development.

The Museum’s presentation will actively address the under-told narratives of immigrants and immigrant labor that accompanied the Gold Rush boom, the influx of settlers to the region and forced relocation of Native American populations, as well as the increased demand for, and use of, the terrain’s environmental resources.

"The work prompts an examination of the realities of California’s history.” says Associate Curator Jayme Yahr. “We feel it’s important to bring to the forefront diverse narratives related to these historical images in order to counteract the often glorified view of Western expansion.”

Towns, Trains, and Terrain will also illustrate the business of printmaking in the 1800s. Featuring artists, cartoonists, and printmaking firms, including Edward Jump, Currier & Ives, Charles Braddock Gifford, the Nahl Brothers, and Britton & Rey, the exhibition allows visitors to better understand the intersections of art, news, and popular culture, and how information was disseminated at the time.

The exhibition is drawn from a recent gift of 200 prints and original works on paper from the Peter T. Pope Early California Collection. The acquisition puts the Museum’s collection of these early works on paper on par with those of the National Gallery of Art and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

“The Pope Collection perfectly bridges two of the Museum’s main collection areas: early California art and works on paper,” says Lial Jones, the Crocker’s Mort and Marcy Friedman Director and CEO. “While we look at these prints as historic today, they were contemporary when made. They provide a great record of the State’s visual history, and we are delighted that the Pope family entrusted the Crocker to care for and share them with the public for generations to come.”

“Having grown up in a family that arrived in California in 1849 to supply lumber to gold miners, these pieces collected over many years by my grandfather became a daily part of my life working in the offices where they were hung for decades,” said Maria Pope, Peter T. Pope’s daughter. “But as much as they were part of my family’s history, they tell the story of California’s history – and the Crocker Art Museum is the ideal steward. Our family’s hope is that Californians will be able to experience these works as intimately as we did and see the history of their great state through the sketches and photos of those who chronicled a truly transformational period.”

In addition to the gifted artwork, Maria Pope has provided funds to digitize the entire collection. Once complete, this expansive snapshot of California history will be readily accessible online to researchers, teachers, students, and the general public, throughout the state and beyond.

Towns, Trains, and Terrain: Early California Prints from the Pope Collection is organized by the Crocker Art Museum, curated by Jayme Yahr, Ph.D., and made possible through a gift from the Peter T. Pope Early California Collection.


For details on these programs and all of the Crocker’s upcoming events and activities, visit