I might have been complaining a little bit to my colleagues at the lunch table when a co-worker suggested that I blog about the behind-the-scenes curating of Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand. “I think people would find it interesting,” she said.
I thought that curating Leading the Field would be more straightforward. The vision seemed simple enough. First, gather as many of the 20 paintings as possible that were included in the 1936 exhibition, Sporting Portraits by Ellen Emmet Rand, N.A., held at the Sporting Gallery & Bookshop in New York City. Then, find other works that would relate to Rand as an equestrian and a countrywoman.
We already knew the names of all the sitters and hunt affiliations of the works in the 1936 exhibition and had close ties to the hunt world. NSLM Board Member and former Joint Master of Piedmont Fox Hounds Turner Reuter helped make phone calls and connections, and I contacted the other hunts. Gary Dycus, another Rand researcher, also offered helpful leads. The first paintings fell into place quickly.
In the early stages of the project, I met Emily Mazzola who was working on her Masters of Arts in Art History at the University of Connecticut. She had kept a spreadsheet of all the Rand titles she came across along the way. Several of these titles jumped out at me as paintings of the artist’s family and farm: Gren with Gun and Dogs, 1903; John — Sketch on Dykeman, 1924; North Pasture—H.H.F., 1925; Boys with Horses, 1928; Bill on Polo Pony, 1930s; J.A.R.[John Alsop Rand] – Riding Clothes, 1930s; Silo and Cows – H.H.F, 1930s; W.B.R. [William Blanchard Rand] – Pink Coat, 1930s; Velvet Cap, Whip and Gloves, 1930s; and Chris in Horse Stall. Surely, some of these paintings would still be in the family’s hands.
Despite what I considered to be a solid list of leads, it turned out to be one of the most challenging list of exhibition loans I have undertaken in my career. Most of the paintings were still in private hands and had passed through one, two, and sometimes three generations. Twisting branches of family trees—divorces, re-marriages, estates, and family alliances—led to dozens and dozens of possible candidates, countless hours of ancestry and obituary research, and a multitude of cold calls and emails to strangers.
It is always exciting to track down an owner of a work; however, it is only the first step. Unlike institutional loans in which we navigate through a bureaucratic process of approvals and paperwork, securing private loans is about building relationships founded on trust. Loan form completion, conservation standards, and scheduling of packing and pickup around busy schedules can start to seem insurmountable. Lenders reach a tipping point when they truly feel—not just think—that their altruism will have a benefit that outweighs the prospect of empty walls and concern over the safety of their cherished pieces.
Of the 22 lenders to Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand, all of us at NSLM owe a huge debt of gratitude to the 16 individuals who committed to their loans. I first started the journey towards a better understanding of the artist Ellen Emmet Rand believing that transcribing the 767,000 words of her 17 years’ worth of diaries would be the most daunting aspect of the project, but thanks to NSLM Visitors Services colleagues taking on the transcriptions, this was not the case. Instead, Rand’s words became an earwig in my brain encouraging me to continue to track down loans for the past three years. Thanks to our generous public and private lenders and Rand’s own words, Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand presents exciting new scholarship with paintings, sketches, illustrations, and photographs gathered from across the miles.
Don’t miss the exhibition before it closes on March 22, 2020. If you would like to schedule a tour, please contact Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator Valerie Peacock. For the further reading, please see the Ellen Emmet Rand Slept Here blog.
Claudia Pfeiffer is the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first 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