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 email@example.com