To piggyback on intern Grace Pierce’s wonderful blog post a few weeks ago, I’d like to highlight a little more about Paul Brown. 

In 1986, his widow, Harriet, donated several works of art to the National Sporting Library, the predecessor of the NSLM. Within this generous artistic donation were personal papers, including almost one hundred decorated envelopes.  Though we don’t have the actual letters, the envelopes represent the courtship between the artist and his sweetheart, his future wife.

Both natives of Minnesota, Harriet went to school at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts while Paul’s family had moved to Garden City, New York.  They met after the Brown family had moved, his father staying in touch with friends back home.

The envelopes are sometimes addressed to “Harriet” but more often informally to her by her nickname “Sally,” sometimes spelled “Sallie” – the long letters allowing Paul to have fun, like in the instance below:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.61

Many envelopes were decorated with images of stick figures, possibly enacting what Harriet was doing at school, for instance moving into Tyler House at Smith College:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.37ab
Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.44

Or cheering on Harvard against Yale:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.81

Shortly before her graduation, Harriet’s mother passed away, forcing the young woman to return home to St Paul. Her family lived for some time in the St Paul Hotel, a luxury hotel, then and now. The envelope shown below uses an elegant font that would not be out of place at a sophisticated establishment, her initials turning into its own brand. The motif on the left side mirrors that of the bellhop’s uniform, very much in the same manner that hotels tend to do – stamping their design throughout.

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.24

The artist often incorporated the postage stamp into the scene, like in the bellhop above, and in more abstract designs, like the one below:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.13

His sense of humor came through, like the envelope below, poking fun at his golfing skills:

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.32

One last memento to share: an envelope postmarked on October 17 and decorated with a “just married” banner, perhaps the last letter before their nuptials on November 12, 1923. A fitting end to such a sweet collection.  

Collection of envelopes from Paul Brown to Harriet Smith Brown, National Sporting Library & Museum, NA2019.29.78

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 Visitor Services Associate at the National Sporting Library & Museum, I often talk to guests about two artworks: an oil, Over the Brush Fence, 1930 and a watercolor, Portrait of a ‘Chaser, 1935. Both were painted by Paul Brown (American, 1893-1958).  Visitors enjoy reminiscing about Paul Brown drawings, prints, and illustrations that they have seen over the years.

Paul Brown (American, 1893-1958) Over the Brush Fence, 1930, oil on canvas, 
26 x 32 7/8 x 1 7/8 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Nancy Searles, the artist's daughter, 2011
Paul Brown (American, 1893-1958) Over the Brush Fence, 1930, oil on canvas,
26 x 32 7/8 x 1 7/8 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Nancy Searles, the artist’s daughter, 2011

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Brown was a well-known equestrian artist and illustrator. He captured the excitement of polo matches, horse shows, and steeplechase events in whimsical, yet accurate detail. He also illustrated over 100 children’s books. NSLM is lucky to be the repository of the largest Paul Brown archive of first edition books and artwork in the world.  An especially intimate part of this collection came to us in 2011 from his daughter, Nancy Brown Searles.  Part of the Searles Collection is an archival box filled with drawings in pencil, pen and ink, and watercolor. Many are charming sketches drawn on nothing more than a torn piece of newsprint or remnant of an art board. 

[untitled], 1935, illustration, pen and ink, Paul Brown Archive, Box 11,
Searles Collection, 2011

The oldest drawing is of a lion, signed “Paul Brown, age 6.”

[untitled], 1899, pencil on paper, Paul Brown Archive, Box 11, 
Searles Collection, 2011
[untitled], 1899, pencil on paper, Paul Brown Archive, Box 11, Searles Collection, 2011

There are also endearing sketches and drawings that include handwritten notes to family and friends.

 [untitled], early 20th century, watercolor, Paul Brown Archive, Box 11, 
Searles Collection, 2011
[untitled], early 20th century, watercolor, Paul Brown Archive, Box 11,
Searles Collection, 2011

In addition to my position at the museum, I am working, part-time, on a Master of Museum and Gallery Studies at University of St Andrews in Scotland.  As part of my collection-based project, I am cataloguing the Searles Collection. I write condition reports and confirm dates so that relationships between drawings in the museum and books in the library can fill out a narrative of the artist’s career.  Paul Brown’s joie de vivre and consummate draftsmanship shines through in all his work from early sketches to mature drawings.

A few works from this treasure box, as well as some of his books from the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room, will be on display in the Library’s Mars Gallery beginning in late September.  Artwork from the archive will be seen, publicly, for the first time ever!  This small exhibit may make you think twice before you throw away a box of childhood drawings.  You never know where the pen, pencil, or paint brush may take you. Check our website soon for exhibition details.

Grace Pierce is a part-time Visitor Services Associate at the National Sporting Library & Museum.  She is also pursuing a Master of Museum and Gallery Studies at University of St Andrews in Scotland. When not greeting visitors at the museum or cataloguing in art storage, Grace can be found on the links in St Andrews.