Mr. Paul Mellon (1907-1999), a revered philanthropist and sportsman, was a lifelong incurable collector. He and his first wife Mary famously purchased their first George Stubbs painting  in 1936 – Pumpkin with a Stable-Lad, 1774, now in the Yale Center for British Art collection.

Pumpkin with a Stable-lad
George Stubbs (British, 1724–1806), Pumpkin with a Stable-lad, 1774, oil on panel, 32 3/8 x 39 7/8 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection [ image source: http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1667168 ]
At the height of his collecting, Mr. Mellon was acquiring in the neighborhood of 200 works a year. By 1955 he and his second wife Rachel “Bunny” Mellon converted the Brick House, a former residence on their Rokeby Farm property in Upperville, Virginia into a library and art gallery to house their growing British sporting art collection.

Another collecting interest that Mr. Mellon developed was in vintage and antique weathervanes. He loaned one of his early acquisitions, a 19th century stamped copper cow, to the Popular Art in America exhibition held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1939. “Mr. Mellon loved the sculptural form of the weathervanes,” noted Beverly Carter, his former administrative assistant in 2002. “He used most of these pieces in the same way that he used the sculpture from his collection, displaying them on tabletops or on freestanding pedestals throughout the Brick House.”

A Horse, with Left Front Leg Raised
A.L. Jewell and Co., Waltham, Mass., c. 1860, A Horse, with Left Front Leg Raised, copper, 18 x 20 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

In 1998 Mr. Mellon generously donated the first of several weathervanes to the National Sporting Library & Museum to adorn the main cupola of the current Library building, then under construction. Carter made arrangements to have the piece transferred from  the basement of the Brick House so that it could be installed while a construction crane was on site.

A Horse Jumping a Post and Rail Gate
A.L. Jewell and Co., Waltham, Mass., third quarter, 19th century, A Horse Jumping a Post and Rail Gate with directionals, molded and gilded copper with ridged sheet copper mane and tail, 30 x 36 inches, Donated by Paul Mellon, 1998

When Mr. Mellon passed away in 1999, he bequeathed an additional eleven weathervanes that he had collected between 1973 and 1991, one of which was a life estate bequest. The latter and another weathervane bequeathed by Mrs. Mellon came to NSLM when she passed away in 2014, bringing the collection to a total of thirteen objects.  Hound Chasing a Fox adorned the Hunter Barn at Rokeby Farm, and is a little worse for wear. Remnants of gold leaf are still visible, however it is oxidized and has several holes that seem to have been the result of target practice!

A Hound Chasing a Fox
L.W. Cushing & Sons, Waltham, Mass., third quarter, 19th century, Hound Chasing a Fox with directionals (detail), copper with gold leaf, 22 x 52 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 2014

Several of the weathervanes are on display in the Library and Museum, and the collection as a whole provides a significant overview of desirable forms, subject matter,  finishes, and sizes produced in the 19th century by a variety of manufacturers, some unknown. Not surprisingly there are five weathervanes that are equine-related, including the two previously mentioned, a mid-19th century trotter and rider, a full-body figure horse and jockey, and a highly-detailed child and pony cart manufactured by J. L. Mott Ironworks, NY, c. 1893. The three latter ones adorn the Library’s Paul Mellon Foyer.

Child and Pony Cart
J.L. Mott Ironworks, New York, c. 1893, Child and Pony Cart, sheet-copper and zinc, 16 x 24 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

Farm animals and wildlife subjects that Mr. Mellon added to the collection include a running fox, a small ram, a large ram, a bull, and the massive pig that adorns the stacks in the Main Reading Room. Mr. Mellon was particularly fond of the pig which he displayed on a table in the Abbey Room, the main library at the Brick House.

Main Reading Room
The Library’s Main Reading Room (prior to the recently completed book re-cataloging project)
A Pig
E.G. Washburne and Company, N.Y., late 19th century, A Pig, copper, 24 x 46 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

Another fine example is the 26-inch long copper and gold-leaf grasshopper that is on view opposite the NSLM Executive Director’s office. Mr. Mellon originally had it installed outdoors at his private airstrip for several years before having it regilt and placed on display at the Brick House as well.

A Grasshopper
American, 19th Century, A Grasshopper, copper with gold leaf, 11 x 26 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

In an interview “Paul Mellon on Collecting Art,” before his passing, Mr. Mellon was seated in the Brick House surrounded by the iconic collection he had amassed over several decades and planned to gift to several public institutions. Behind his left shoulder was his famed first Stubbs painting of Pumpkin and over his right – a horse weathervane with left front leg raised, most likely the one now in the National Sporting Library & Museum’s collection. When asked to give advice on collecting, Mr. Mellon said about his lifelong passion, “Immerse yourself in whatever you are interested in,” jokingly adding, “but if you’re very lucky, you won’t do it at all.”

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Newly designed sticker to be given to NSLM members as they join or renew and will be available for purchase in the Museum gift shop.

I will be adding this little gem to my sticker collection. The image is based on the outline of the weathervane which sits atop the NSLM’s Library building.  Since it has the distinction of being the only weathervane that Mr. Mellon gifted to NSLM during his lifetime, it is fitting that we introduce this graphic while we are the opening venue for  the exhibition of the Paul Mellon British Sporting Art collection traveling from Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.


pfeifferClaudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

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This week is the 98th running of the Middleburg Spring Races. The first race was run in 1911, organized by Daniel C. Sands, MFH of the Middleburg Hunt, and despite a hiatus during World War I, still endures today. The races are run at Glenwood Park here in Middleburg, which Sands donated in 1963 to preserve the open spaces required for equestrian events.

We recently found an image in one of our archive collections of the Middleburg Spring Races in 1938. Glenwood Park looks almost exactly the same today as it did back then, even down to the areas where tailgates and general admission spectators are located. Click here to get a close up view of the 1938 races!

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Middleburg Spring Races, 1938. Photograph by Walter B. Lane. National Sporting Library & Museum, Gerald B. Webb, Jr. Archive.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

A few weeks ago, some casual browsing of the internet turned up a fascinating connection for NSLM’s staff members. We found that Frances Benjamin Johnston visited Middleburg in the 1930s to photograph the town’s historic buildings. Like so many accidental discoveries, we knew we had to get it onto the blog to share with our readers!

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Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Frances Benjamin Johnston, full-length portrait, seated in front of fireplace, facing left, holding cigarette in one hand and a beer stein in the other, in her Washington, D.C. studio. Washington D.C, 1896. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/98502934/. (Accessed March 25, 2018.)

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) was a hugely influential figure in the history of American photography. Raised in the Washington, D.C. region, Johnston embarked on her photography career when a friend of her family, George Eastman, gave her a camera as a gift. Johnston would go on to become the official White House photographer for five separate presidential administrations before turning her focus to architecture.

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Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Rogers House, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. Loudoun County Middleburg Virginia, ca. 1930. [Between and 1939] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/csas200905147/. (Accessed March 25, 2018.)
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Vine Hill today. A large magnolia is growing in the spot where Johnston first photographed the building.

Johnston began to explore photographing architecture in the 1920s, and by the 1930s, she had developed a plan to photograph early structures that were at risk of deterioration or redevelopment. Johnston embarked on what would become the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.

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Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Rogers House, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. Loudoun County Middleburg Virginia, ca. 1930. [Between and 1939] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/csas200905153/. (Accessed March 25, 2018.)
sidedoor
In the 1920s and earlier, this was the front door to Vine Hill. By the 1930s, this was used as a side door with the south end doorway serving as the main entrance.

Originally planned to last one year to tour Virginia, the project stretched out over eight years and Johnston visited eight states and traveled thousands of miles. One of her stops was Middleburg, Virginia, where she photographed Vine Hill.

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Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Rogers House, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. Loudoun County Middleburg Virginia, ca. 1930. [Between and 1939] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/csas200905148/. (Accessed March 25, 2018.)
frontdoor
For decades, this south entrance was the main door to Vine Hill. To protect the artwork in the gallery inside, it’s no longer used to enter the building.

Vine Hill was built by in 1804 and was occupied by the Cochran family through the Civil War. Following the war, the house was owned by the Rogers and Noland families before being owned by Fanny Dudley Woodward in trust for her daughter, Katharine “Foffy” Woodward, who was deaf.

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Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Rogers House, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. Loudoun County Middleburg Virginia, ca. 1930. [Between and 1939] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/csas200905149/. (Accessed March 25, 2018.)
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The original entry to Vine Hill remains intact with original stairway and banisters. Although the upper level galleries are currently closed as a new exhibition is installed, visitors usually use this staircase to access the upper floor galleries. Sadly, the deer head no longer adorns the landing.

Foffy Woodward owned the house into the 1960s, opening the region’s first antiques shop out of the house. When Johnston visited Middleburg in the 1930s, the house was referred to as the Rogers House, and all her photos are labeled as such.

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Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Rogers House, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. Loudoun County Middleburg Virginia, ca. 1930. [Between and 1939] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/csas200905150/. (Accessed March 25, 2018.)
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Today, the sliding doors and nooks next to the fireplace are gone in favor of easy access to the next gallery.

The name “Vine Hill” referred to a time when the Noland family when the house was surrounded by vineyards, and appears to have supplanted “Rogers House” in the 1940s or 1950s.

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Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Rogers House, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. Loudoun County Middleburg Virginia, ca. 1930. [Between and 1939] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/csas200905152/. (Accessed March 25, 2018.)
fireplace2
It’s not unusual today for visitors to the Museum to view works by Michael Lyne, Sir Alfred Munnings, and others… in the rooms filled with over 200 years of history.

Vine Hill was purchased by George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. in 1968 to serve as the offices of The Chronicle of the Horse and the National Sporting Library. The two organizations would share the building for thirty years before new buildings were constructed for each in 1998.

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Johnston, Frances Benjamin, photographer. Rogers House, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia. Loudoun County Middleburg Virginia, ca. 1930. [Between and 1939] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/csas200905154/. (Accessed March 25, 2018.)
fireplace3
The rooms of Vine Hill now serve as gallery space for the National Sporting Library & Museum. Gallery lighting was installed and exhibitions of paintings and sculptures now occupy these spaces.

In 2010, new gallery space was added to Vine Hill and in 2011, the Museum opened and the National Sporting Library was re-named the National Sporting Library & Museum.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

Spring has come, along with steeplechasing and flat racing throughout the Virginia Piedmont. The same springtime spirit can be felt across the racing community, and across the world. Few towns are held in as high sporting regard as Newmarket in Suffolk, England. First settled as a market town after the Norman invasion, Newmarket became a hub of horse racing culture in the reign of Charles II (1630 – 1685). Though James I built the first royal residence at Newmarket c. 1610 to pursue sport, it is only with the restoration of the Crown after 1660 that the town grew to become the international center of horse racing, a reputation that it still holds today.

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James Pollard (English, 1792-1867) Newmarket Races, 1909. Engraving from an earlier painting by James Pollard. Copyright Getty Images.

Among the earliest races established at Newmarket is the three-mile Newmarket Town Plate. Charles II founded the race in 1666 with the direction that it should be run in perpetuity. True to this charge, the race has been run for over 350 years. At first there were only two race meets, one in April, the other in October. By 1840 there were seven race meets: The Craven Meeting, the 1st and 2nd Spring Meetings, the July Meeting, the 1st and 2nd October Meetings, and finally the Houghton Meeting. Traditionally the first races of the year took place the week following Easter Sunday. Today the Rowley Mile and the July Course boast races and events every weekend from the Craven Meeting in mid-April to the final meet at the beginning of November.

George Stubbs, English, 1724 - 1806 (Artist); Hyena with a Groom
George Stubbs (English, 1724–1806), Hyaena at Newmarket with One of Jenison Shafto’s Stablelads, ca. 1765–7, oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 50 1/8 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Paul Mellon Collection (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/6027262-132161010/)

The long history and distinctive style of Newmarket made it a popular subject for the burgeoning market of sporting artwork in the 18th and 19th centuries, and beyond. Many famous equine portraits are set at the stables in Newmarket, meant to commemorate distinguished careers at the capitol of English racing. This subject allowed artists like George Stubbs (1724-1806) and Benjamin Marshall (1768-1835) to demonstrate their skillful mastery of equine anatomy. Other images of Newmarket show frenetic energy and passion before race meets. This time of year it is easy to imagine oneself pressed in a crowd of spectators as jockeys in brightly colored silks line up for the race.

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Sir Alfred Munnings, P.R.A. (British, 1878–1959), Linin’ ’em Up, Newmarket, ca. 1940–53, oil on panel, 19 ¾ x 23 ½ inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection.  (image source: https://www.vmfa.museum/piction/7898216-110496899/)
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Henry Koehler (American, b. 1927), Jockeys Between Races, Newmarket, 2009, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in. Gift of the artist, 2012.

Springtime races, whether at Newmarket or in the foothills of Loudoun County, marry the traditions of country life with the perennial newness and passion of changing seasons. The brisk air and thundering hooves can be felt across times as old and new are blended together in our cultural landscapes and in the paintings of sporting artists throughout time.

Not able to make it to Newmarket this spring? You’re in luck! Some of these works and other stunning examples of sporting masterpieces are on view at NSLM both in the permanent collection and in Spring’s feature exhibition, A Sporting Vision: the Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, opening April 13, 2018.