I feel a particular kinship to the Sidesaddle, 1690-1935 exhibition, on view at the National Sporting Library & Museum until March 24, 2019. I’m not an avid sidesaddle rider (I’m not a rider at all) but because this was my first project here at the NSLM as a full-time staff member. I started my new position as Collections Manager on Monday morning, August 27, 2019, and, along with our curator, Claudia Pfeiffer, and art handler, Alex Orfila, installation began.
The installation process of an exhibition is really very exciting; the months, and even years, of planning are finally coming into fruition! Though I have participated in installations before, this was my first large-scale fine art installation. We had two weeks to uncrate the paintings, evaluate their condition and hang them, hang labels, and adjust lighting. That’s just the bare-bones physical labor. It may not sound like a lot of work but trust me, it is.
Shortly before the exhibition was scheduled to open, paintings began arriving in crates from various institutions and private lenders. As Collections Manager, it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of the art under the care of the NSLM. Before a crate is even opened, I take pictures of all its angles, documenting the condition of its exterior. The paintings are protected with custom foam, plastic boards and/or sheeting, gatorboard, and other packaging materials. As each layer is removed, a photo is taken. These photos are our record in the unlikely event an item arrives damaged.
After a painting has been fully removed from its crate, it is placed on a cloth-covered table for evaluation, known as a condition report. Lending institutions and some private lenders provide their own report detailing the physical condition of the object upon leaving their premises. I compare that to the object and my own report and see if there are any changes. Are there any new scratches on the frame or canvas? More photos are taken, noting any existing damage (based on the lender’s report) to the frame or the painting itself. The hardware from which the painting will be hung also needs to be evaluated – does it need to be tightened or replaced? The lender is always consulted regarding any potential changes.
Once all the paintings have been uncrated, it is finally time to start hanging them using the layout that Claudia finalized months ago. This involves a lot of math. Claudia and Alex have been working together on installations for twenty years; they have this process fine-tuned.
Once all the paintings are hung, the accompanying labels are next. These need to be properly aligned with each other and the painting. I brought out the laser level for this. Hopefully with time, I’ll be able to gauge it just by looking at it. What took me ten minutes with the laser, took Claudia ten seconds eyeballing it.
Lastly is the lighting. This sounds quick and easy but is actually the most tedious. There are different kinds of light canisters, bulbs, and screens. We want the entire painting to receive the same amount of light without causing any glare or shadow. Another element to consider is if there are restrictions on how much light a particular work of art can be exposed to. If it is a drawing or watercolor, the light levels are generally lower. An oil painting can tolerate levels that are a little stronger.
Once the installation is complete, that’s it for now, right? Not quite. Part of the agreement with the lenders, and one of the reasons why they agree to loan to us, is because we will treat the works as if they were ours. Twice a week, for the duration of the exhibition, our curatorial intern, Cynthia Kurtz, and I will gently dust the frames. This allows us to monitor any existing conditions and keep an eye out for any potential new issues.
Finally, when the exhibition closes at the end of March, as the paintings are removed from the walls, I will compare the condition reports completed in August, making any notations. Even more thorough photos will be taken. When the paintings arrive at their home museums, my counterparts will then do yet another condition report to ensure its safe transport between the NSLM and their museum. Overkill? Not at all. It is our job to maintain and preserve the works – we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Be sure to see Sidesaddle, 1690-1935 before it closes on March 24!
Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org
As a quick search of the collection reveals, the National Sporting Library holds some 956 books on “fox-hunting,” ranging in date from J. Roberts, An Essay on Hunting (1733) to Alastair Jackson, Lady of the Chase: The Life and Hunting Diaries of Daphne Moore (2018). Anyone likely to be visiting this website will know all the familiar names, from the prolific Nimrod and Robert Smith Surtees, to the less widely published William Scarth Dixon and Willoughby de Broke, Richard Greville Verney, to writers primarily known for one seminal work: Anthony Trollope, Hunting Sketches (1865), or George Whyte-Melville, Riding Recollections (1878).
The Library’s holdings from the 20th century alone total an impressive 602 works. They also include many by familiar names, such as the “standards” J. Stanley Reeve and A. Henry Higginson or, more recently, Michael Clayton and Alexander Mackay-Smith, as well as a number of influential works by women writers, such as Lady Diana Shedden and Lady Apsley, “To Whom The Goddess . . .”—Hunting and Riding for Women (1932), Lida Fleitmann Bloodgood, Hoofs in the Distance (1953), and E.V.A. Christy, Cross-Saddle and Side-Saddle (1932), one of many books on equitation that include the demands of riding across country.
Many of the 20th century works, most of them held by NSLM, date to the interwar years. Citing 177 examples, Anne Grimshaw has estimated that books specifically on hunting published in England between 1919 and 1945 accounted for “25% of the total output of equestrian literature” (Grimshaw, 160). They include at least one title of signal literary merit: Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, published by the distinguished poet Siegfried Sassoon in 1928 as the first volume of what would become a Great War trilogy, The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (1937).
2. Sassoon and Sherston
Though primarily known as a “Great War Poet,” Sassoon joins Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden as one of the most important British memoirists to have served on the Western Front. In addition to three volumes of non-fictional memoirs, Sassoon published the three volumes of fictional memoirs that constitute the Sherston trilogy: the first two volumes form a clearly linked pair written only two years apart; the much shorter and less fully realized third volume, written four years later, brings the trilogy’s story to a coherent conclusion and provides the vantage from which Sherston narrates it.
In outline, the story is simple. Memoirs of aFox-Hunting Man tracks Sherston’s evolution as a young rural sportsman to his installation as a newly minted infantry officer in 1914. It concludes with his waking from an idyllic dream of hunt country to a grim view over no man’s land. Memoirs of anInfantry Officer recounts Sherston’s life at the front from 1915 to 1917, including the single-handed attack on a German trench that earns him a Military Cross, and the growing “anti-war bitterness” that issues in his public anti-war statement and the military’s retaliatory diagnosis of him as “shell-shocked.” Sherston’s Progress, finally, limns Sherston’s psychiatric therapy and plumbs the internal conflict that results in his return to action in 1918 and the wound that ended his military service.
The events in Sassoon’s own life and memoirs match those in Sherston’s closely, with the crucial difference, as Sassoon puts it, that “Sherston was a simplified version of my ‘outdoor self.’ He was denied the complex advantage of being a soldier poet” (Siegfried’s Journey, 69). As Sherston puts it, Fox-Hunting Man depends “solely on my experiences as a sportsman,” primarily as horseman, but also as cricketer and golfer. The War, ironically, will fix his one shortcoming: “I had never shot at a bird or an animal in my life, though I’d often felt that my position as a sportsman would be stronger if I were ‘a good man with a gun.’”
3. Horseman and Infantryman
Fox-Hunting Man first appeared anonymously and independently and quickly enjoyed wide acclaim. The reading public in 1928, like many readers in sporting circles today, celebrated it as one of the gently ironic memoirs of fox-hunting published in great numbers in England and America between the wars. Sassoon nominally proffered it as such, but its final chapters, and the subsequent publication of Infantry Officer, make clear that he also intended to draw out parallels between hunting in England and soldiering in France.
The parallelism that Sassoon (and thus Sherston) develops is manifold, complex, nuanced, and ambivalent. It involves, among other things, landscape (rural hunt country and war-torn wasteland), organization (hunt hierarchy and military command), protocols (hunt etiquette and military rules of procedure), horses (hunters and chargers), and, perhaps most important, the shared values of specialized knowledge and skill and of boldness and courage, and a shared recognition that some acts are irrevocable—Sherston’s facing a big hedge with the feeling “that I was ‘in for it’” foreshadows his feeling when “going over the top.”
At first look, Fox-Hunting Man and Infantry Officer set fox hunting and warfare in opposition. They contrast the freedom of fast and exhilarating movement on horseback over bright and broad fields dotted with woods, hedges, and fences with the confinement of cramped and terrified movement in dark and narrow trenches or on one’s belly through corpse strewn mud. At the same time, however, the books also place hunting and warfare in apposition. They call both hunting and warfare “inhumane” practices that enact ritual killing (albeit of different prey) and that entail attrition of men and horses (albeit incidental as opposed to intrinsic).
Fox-hunting comprises mounted humans following a canine pack chasing vulpine prey across a rural landscape. Sassoon links those essentials both literally and figuratively to corresponding aspects of the Great War. “Wire,” for example, shows up repeatedly in Fox-Hunting Man—in single strands hidden in hedges as “the most dangerous enemy of the hunting-man” and in tangled masses in no man’s land as fatal to wiring parties and wire-cutting patrols alike. The hunter Sherston unhorsed by hidden wire foreshadows the officer Sherston bereaved by a friend’s death on a wiring-party (fall from grace foreshadowing rise toward redemption).
4. Hunting and Warfare
If wire binds the parts of the trilogy, the parallelism of hunting and warfare provides its foundation—a parallel that Sassoon, clearly conflicted, both subverts with irony and enforces with nostalgia. Far from inventing this parallel, Sassoon is drawing on an idea prevalent in British military writing in the 17th through 19th centuries: fox-hunting as fit preparation for warfare and leadership in war. While the idea retained vitality through the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, it became moribund as a serious proposition following the mass carnage of the Great War.
For obvious reasons, writers applied the parallel primarily to cavalry, promoting the physical and mental demands of hunting as ideal preparation for the cavalry officer. That advocacy reached its high water mark in E.A.H. Alderson’s Pink and Scarlet, or Hunting as a School for Soldiering (1900), a work directly relevant to the Sherston trilogy since it treats hunting as preparation for “soldiering” in all arms. “The hunting man is already a more than half-made soldier,” Alderson contends, the beneficiary of the “things that hunting cannot help teaching, and the many, many things it may be made to teach if taken in the right way” (Alderson, vii, 13).
Sassoon’s trilogy picks up the basic idea as a trope. Tracking Sherston from hunting on an idyllic English landscape to killing on a hellish Western Front, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man strongly implies that hunting could have prepared no one for the uniquely modern horrors of the Great War. Yet Memoirs of an Infantry Officer intimates that hunting was precisely what equipped Sherston with the skill, boldness, and basic recklessness for his battlefield heroics, and Sherston’s Progress strongly implies that hunting also equipped him with the ethics, pluck, and moral courage that demanded and enabled his “progress” to antiwar activism.
The Great War rendered mounted cavalry an anachronism, along with the idea of fox-hunting as preparation for cavalry (and for soldiering in general). A plethora of books published in the postwar moment, however, was reaffirming the fox-hunt as icon of a disappearing rural British culture and its traditional values. Ultimately more elegiac than ironic, Sassoon’s trilogy respected the icon and reflected and promoted the nostalgia. Sassoon, in short, revived a moribund British conflation of sports, notably field sports, and warfare; he buried that conflation under three volumes of irony; but, in the end, he resurrected it.
 Blunden’s Undertones of War (1928), Graves’s Goodbye to All That (1929), and Sassoon’s Complete Memoirs of George Sherston exemplify the genre. Their stature is no small matter, given the hundreds of Great War memoirs written by eminent British literary and military figures and by veterans and observers of lesser or no renown. For the latter, see Lengel, World War 1 Memories, and Donovan, In Memoriam. Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth (1933) exemplifies Great War memoirs not set at the Front.
 Sassoon’s non-fictional memoirs comprise The Old Century and Seven More Years (1938), The Weald of Youth (1942), and Siegfried’s Journey (1946). All six memoirs, those of Sassoon and those of Sherston, were based on extensive diaries kept by Sassoon during the war and its aftermath and posthumously published as Diaries, 1915-1918 (1983), Diaries, 1920-1922 (1981), and Diaries, 1923-1925 (1985).
 By 1928, Sassoon was an established and celebrated poet whose work often incorporated fox-hunting, such as the title poem of his first collection, The Old Huntsman and Other Poems (1917).
 To cite just two examples, Lewis Edward Nolan writes in Cavalry: History and Tactics (1853) that “the Englishman beats the world in a ride after the hounds and a run across country,” in what he calls “this manly sport—the best of all to form bold riders” (61), and Sir Evelyn Wood adds in Achievements of Cavalry (1897): “We have one incalculable advantage which no other nation possesses, in that our officers are able to hunt” (39).
 In the prewar Our Cavalry (1912), for example, M.F. Rimington assesses the right officer material: “We particularly want the hunting breed of man, because he goes into danger for the love of it” (159). And in Modern Cavalry (1922), Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, perhaps the most eloquent of the remaining postwar apologists for the idea, echoes Rimington: “The man who rides into danger for the love of it, the man who keenly enjoys cross-country going and polo, contains in his disposition the germs of success as a cavalry officer” (49).
 Sassoon writes in Siegfred’s Journey that his anti-war statement was “a moral equivalent of ‘going over the top,’” both actions “requiring moral courage” (52, 57).
Alderson, E.A.H. Pink and Scarlet, or Hunting as a School for Soldiering. London: Heinemann, 1900.
Donovan, Tom. In Memoriam: A Bibliography of the Personal Memorial Volumes of the Great War, 1914–1918. Brighton: Tom Donovan Editions, 2015.
Grimshaw, Anne. The Horse: A Bibliography of British Books 1851-1976. London: The Library Association, 1982.
Lengel, Edward. World War 1 Memories: An Annotated Bibliography of Personal Accounts Published in English since 1919. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.
Nolan, Louis Edward. Cavalry: History and Tactics. 1853. Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2007.
Rimington, M.F. Our Cavalry. London: Macmillan, 1912.
Sassoon, Siegfried. The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston. London: Faber & Faber, 1937.
Wheeler-Nicholson, Malcolm. Modern Cavalry. New York: Macmillan, 1922.
Wood, Sir Evelyn. Achievements of Cavalry. London: George Bell & Sons, 1897.
Charles Caramello is John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library & Museum and Professor of English at University of Maryland. He is working on a book called Horsemen, Horse Soldiers, and Grand Illusions.
What do a stuffed horse, Seattle Slew, the Black Stallion, and
Ronald Reagan all have in common? Although the question may seem like the set
up for the punchline to a joke, the answer is that they are among the
far-ranging photographic subjects represented in the vintage and antique equine
imagery recently donated to the National Sporting Library & Museum by Judith
& Jo Tartt, Jr.
You may recall the loan exhibition in the Museum that ended in January 2018 titled The Horse and the Camera: From the Judith & Jo Tartt, Jr. Photography Collection. A subset of almost 70 tintypes, photogravures, albumen prints, gelatin silver prints, and collotypes from the 1870s to the 1960s were loaned by Judith and Jo Tartt from their 160-image collection of black and white photography to develop a narrative about technological advancements in cameras and resulting images; the evolution of equine sports photography; and the horse as the center of sport, work, and leisure. Among the highlights were early portraits, a stop-motion sequence of a horse and rider jumping by Edweard Muybridge, two images of equestrian competition in the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Leni Riefenstahl, and an art photo of draft horses by Alfred Stieglitz.
The collection, however, is even deeper and broader than the topics explored in the exhibition. Lighthearted circus performers; heart-wrenching war horse casualties; souvenir carnival photos (yes, even with a stuffed horse); iconic celebrities; and a multitude of newsworthy races, racehorses, jockeys, and finishes pepper the collection.
How does a collection such as this come to exist? It is actually a sweet story. When they began courting, Jo Tartt, a photography expert and now-retired gallery owner, and Judith Tartt, a conservator and equestrian, began to build it together. They started carefully amassing photographic images that featured equines as a combined interest in the 1990s. Their criteria were composition, quality, and uniqueness; and it shows. Each image adds a level of understanding of the relationship that humans intrinsically have with horses, while at the same time providing a “different angle,” both in technical aspects of photography and in the context of the subjects captured.
Many are original gelatin silver prints by unknown photojournalists, some with accompanying wirephoto news service captions. It is easy to get lost in the multitude of these images: a 1971 photo of John F. Kennedy, Jr., at the age of 11, riding a pony and looking absolutely miserable in his hunt attire; a human “foxhunt” in 1937; an astounding show of power in a draft horse pull on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s; or a 1952 photo of jockey Johnny Langden weighing out for his almost unbelievable 3,995th race.
The photographic images may be “weird” to some and “wonderful” to others, but in total they are a most welcome addition to the National Sporting Library & Museum’s holdings. Working on the previous exhibition and programs with Judith and Jo Tartt was an amazing and enriching experience, and knowing that we were able to develop a mutual respect that led to their ultimate decision to generously donate this precious collection is the best gift of all. We look forward to the opportunity of researching these images further and interpreting them in a multitude of ways. Don’t miss some of them in the upcoming exhibition, NSLMology: Science of Sporting Art. Here’s to the “weird and wonderful.”
Claudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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“Drawing Covert,” refers to the practice in foxhunting of putting hounds in a covert (pronounced like “cover”), a thicket or wooded brush area, to find the fox.
This blog is about the exhibitions, tours, research, programs, and events, at NSLM on its unique collection of books, archives, paintings, sculpture and much more.