It is one of the most endearing stories I know: a tale of a boy who had a crush that turned into an over 50-year marriage. The boy, Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), became a famous artist and his wife, Phyllis Mills Wyeth (1940–2019), his muse. It is a story of triumph, of spirit, and of tenacity. It is a Wyeth story, it is a Mills story, and, at the heart of it, it is a celebration of life. Jamie Wyeth expressed this enchanted tale in his paintings. I cannot think of anything more intimate or pure, and to preserve this sentiment, I will refer to them as “Jamie” and “Phyllis” in this blog entry.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), …And Then Into the Deep Gorge, 1975, oil on canvas, 36 x 46 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

In 2014, Jamie discussed his artistic process in the short film, Inferno: “I just look at myself as a recorder. I just want to record things that interest me in my life…it’s as if I’m doing a diary.” What must it have been like for Phyllis to so deeply inspire someone that he painted her over and over again? Moreover, what was it like for that painter to be “the” Jamie Wyeth?

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Connemara, 1987, oil on canvas, 37 x 73 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

When Phyllis passed away in January 2019, the Brandywine River Museum of Art organized a tribute exhibition within two months. Beautifully curated, the paintings and sketches in Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration, spanning over 50 years, lay bare the essence of Phyllis’s uncontainable spirit and the magnitude of Jamie’s artistic talent. The combination is a moving visual journey of a woman who, despite being dealt what could have been a cruel deck of cards, lived life to the utmost.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Sable, 1988, oil and gesso on panel, 30 x 40 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Phyllis was a force of nature. A child of Alice DuPont Mills and James P. Mills, who established the Thoroughbred breeding and training operation Hickory Tree Farm and Stable in Middleburg circa 1950, she too was an avid sportswoman from her earliest days and loved to ride and jump horses. She went to the Hill School in Middleburg and was friends with Jacqueline B. Mars, daughter of Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Her father was the driving force of Mars Incorporated, introducing M&M’s in 1941, among other now-household names. The girls along with Phyllis’s older sister Mimi were the first children to hunt with Orange County Hounds in The Plains. It was an idyllic life in the Virginia Piedmont.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Iggy Visits Union Rags—Fairhill 2011, 2011, mixed media on toned paper, 4 ¼ x 8 ¾ inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Phyllis went on to graduate from the Ethel Walker School, major in Political Science at Finch College, and work for John F. Kennedy when he was Senator and later President. Just shy of her 22nd birthday in 1962, Phyllis was in a life-changing car accident. A head-on collision left her with a broken neck and a year of rehabilitation at a New York City hospital. She walked with crutches (and was confined to a wheelchair later in life).

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Point Lookout Farmlife, 2005, oil on panel, 48 x 48 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Following her accident, when she was able, she attended the Maryland Hunt Cup. There, Jamie, five-and-a-half years her junior, saw her and was again captivated after having danced with her at a party. They had met by the time he was 12 years old. The couple married in 1968 and moved to Point Lookout Farm, a 240-acre farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. There they surrounded themselves with a menagerie of animals, among them her prized Connemara ponies and Paint horses. After her accident, she turned her love of horses to carriage driving, both for pleasure and competitively. She started Chadds Ford Stable, a breeding operation that produced Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags in 2012. Dogs were the Wyeths’ constant companions, and they split their time between Pennsylvania and their property in Tenants Harbor, Maine.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Winner’s Circle, Belmont Stakes, 2012/2019, oil and acrylic on panel, 36 x 30 inches, Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

All the while, Jamie painted and captured the narrative of Phyllis’s sporting life and her multifaceted character for decades. The leaps and bounds he took away from his early subdued palette are seen in full force in these paintings. Perhaps he felt freer to experiment when he tried to encapsulate her vibrant spirit and fortitude, using electric colors and throwing paint. In pairings such as …And Then Into the Deep Gorge, completed in 1975, and Out of the Deep Gorge, the same subject revisited in 2002, Phyllis transforms from an enigmatic siren descending into the shadowy forest to a triumphant foil illuminated by a swirl of neon yellow. Jamie’s paintings of Phyllis are a mesmerizing and transfixing journey.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946), Out of the Deep Gorge, 2002, combined mediums on toned board, 24 x 29 ½ inches, , Collection of Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

At the opening event at NSLM, Jacqueline Mars said that her childhood friend Phyllis has come home. It is a poignant return, and the sentiment rings true in the NSLM galleries as Phyllis Mills Wyeth’s life unfolds through the eyes of her husband from one room to the next, an intimate experience in the original wing of the museum that was once a Federal-style house. At the event, Jamie shared an exchange he once had with Andrew Wyeth. He asked his famed father why he painted, and his answer was, “Well, Jamie, I paint for myself.” Jamie said he also thought of himself in the same way until recently, noting, “Now I know I was painting for Phyllis.” It is an honor to be the final venue for Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration and to share it with our community.

“Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration” is on view through June 28, 2020. It was organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and was generously underwritten at NSLM by Jacqueline B. Mars.


pfeiffer

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 cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

One of the great things about this job is how often interesting tidbits of information unexpectedly crop up during routine work with the collections.  In library circles this phenomenon is known as serendipitous discovery and usually refers to how books on a subject or related subjects are shelved together or nearby each other.  This allows the searcher that finds one book on their topic to “serendipitously” find additional useful resources.  “I didn’t know I needed it until I found it,” is the usual comment.  In similar fashion, during reference work I often find fascinating information only tangentially related to that I was originally seeking.  This occurred most recently last month, when a question about our Facebook post for National Horse Day led me to discover the colorful character, Henry Augustus Ward.

The Facebook post was about a fossilized prehistoric horse tooth in the collection and a reader asked how the NSLM had acquired it.  Unfortunately the Library doesn’t have any record of who donated the tooth and the only documentation accompanying it is a specimen tag stating it was Eohippus species, dated from the Eocene, and was found in the Willwood Formation in Worland, Wyoming.  The bottom edge of the tag listed the supplier as Ward’s Natural Science Establishment, Inc. in Rochester NY.  On a whim I checked to see if the company was still in existence.  It is, and today they specialize in supplying classroom materials for science education.  Ward’s Science, as it is called today, was founded in 1862 by Henry Augustus Ward — a man whose life of adventure and travel sounds more like fiction than fact.

Henry Augustus Ward. From Wikimedia Commons.

Ward was born in Rochester, New York in 1834.  At the age of twelve he ran away from home and made his way on foot and by lake steamer to visit his father who was working in Chicago.  It was the first of many adventurous trips.  He was interested in geology and attended several universities, including Harvard where he studied under Louis Agassiz.  At twenty he landed a job as a tutor for his friend Charles Wadsworth.  They attended Mines School in Paris.  The two of them traveled throughout Europe but eventually Wadsworth’s poor health sent them south to warmer climes.  They journeyed to Egypt where they ascended the Nile 1000 miles and then traveled overland from Alexandria to Jerusalem, including a stop to climb Mt. Siani.  Ward stayed on in Europe after the tutoring job ended and began financing his education through the buying and selling of specimens.  It is during this time that he hits on making a career out of building specimen collections for museums and universities. 

On his way back to Rochester from this first European trip, Henry ended up contracting a fever (or small pox depending on the source) and was marooned somewhere along the western coast of Africa by the ship captain for fear of contagion among the crew and other passengers.  He was cared for by the locals and eventually made it back to Rochester, where at 26 he married and was appointed a professor at the University of Rochester.  He reportedly brought home upwards of 40,000 specimens from Europe and his obsession with collecting continued to grow. 

Catalogue of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fishes (1877). From the special collections at University of Rochester, River Campus Libraries

Within two years he founded the Ward’s Natural Science Establishment and began to sell not only geologic collections, such as fossils and minerals, but also natural history collections featuring skeletons and taxidermy mounts.  Ward’s would prove essential to the foundation of many American museums, allowing their core collections to be assembled quickly.  The company was also instrumental in the development of the science of museum taxidermy.  Many of the taxidermists that would eventually serve in America’s finest natural history museums had their start working for Ward’s.

After five years Ward abandoned the teaching profession and continued his life of adventure.  He dabbled in gold mining for a time both in the American West and in the Carolinas.  He became friends with Buffalo Bill Cody and P.T. Barnum, mounting buffalo heads for the former and no less than Jumbo the Elephant for the latter. 

P.T. Barnum’s Jumbo. From Ward’s Science.

He continued to travel to all parts of the world in search of specimens.  In later life he was especially interested in meteorites and amassed an impressive collection of them.  Even in death Ward was singular.  In 1904 on the 4th of July he was hit and killed by a car in Buffalo, NY.  His was the first pedestrian fatality caused by an automobile in that city.  It was a hit and run, although the driver was found and charged with manslaughter. The Buffalo Commercial ran a lengthy article about the accident that may be read here.

Henry Ward with a meteorite. From Wikimedia Commons.

Although Henry Ward wasn’t stuffed and mounted like his specimens, his brain was given to the Wilder Brain Collection at Cornell University, for research on the “physical characteristics of a brilliant mind.”  Ward’s ashes are interred in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester NY.  His grave is marked by a large jasper-flecked boulder that he brought back from Canada for the purpose. 

Ward’s grave in Mount Hope Cemetery. From Linda Hall Library.

It goes without saying that there is quite a bit more to learn about Henry August Ward than what I included in this short article.  I’d like to share my favorite description of him as well as some sources for further reading.

William T. Hornaday described Ward like this:

“His height is five feet eight, and at present his weight is 172 pounds.  If one could examine him analytically it would be found that internally he is composed of raw-hide, whale-bone and asbestos; for surely no ordinary human materials could for forty-five years so successfully withstand bad cooks, bad food and bad drinks that have necessarily been encountered by anyone who has, so recklessly of self, traveled all over creation.”— W. T. Hornaday, Biographic Memoirs of Deceased Fellows, Proceedings of the Rochester Academy of Science Vol. 5, pp. 241-251, May 1919. 

Resources for further investigation :


Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail.

I love my job. Period. Full stop. End of sentence.

George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Curator Claudia Pfeiffer and I travelled to New York City for the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Meet the Breeds event at the Jacob Javits Center, January 25-26, 2020. Two days of dogs, puppies, slobbery kisses, pats on the head (the dogs, not us), exhibition promotion, museum collaboration, and a few sneezes. Turns out, I have a slight allergy.

As mentioned in my previous blog entry on dog collars, the NSLM is partnering with the Museum of the Dog in New York City for the exhibition Identity and Restraint: Art of the Dog Collar. Selections from our dog collar collection will be displayed alongside artistic representations loaned by the Museum of the Dog. What better way to promote this than to go to the source?

American Kennel Club Meet the Breeds at Jacob Javits Center, NYC, January 25-26, 2020

The Museum of the Dog kindly allowed us to share their booth at the convention, where we set up a small display of collars and encouraged guests to visit the exhibition when it opens in 2021-2022. It was a great chance to spread the word, meet our colleagues at the Museum, and do a little research. We wanted to see some of the breeds, like the various hounds and dogs, we generally come across as a Sporting Museum.

Selection from NSLM Dog Collar Collection, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2015

“Meet the Breeds” is not just a clever name. We literally “meet the breeds.” Each breed has its own booth with both human and canine representatives. As the AKC website states, “Almost 200 breeds of dogs and cats will be on site in elaborately decorated booths with elements from the breeds’ history creatively displayed as well as opportunities to learn from the experts about each breed in attendance.” This did not disappoint.

The sweet Scottish Deerhound was still waking up when we approached. She was certainly more interested in her owner’s glazed doughnut than the strangers who were hoping for a little love. She lived up to her reputation as being one of the taller breeds, coming up to our waists.

Scottish Deerhound enjoying a treat!

Another tall friend was Jamie, a Borzoi, who was particularly in love with Claudia. Jamie sidled up to Claudia for a scratch and then slowly started wrapping her nose around Claudia’s legs, not allowing her to move. When she was finally able to sidestep a little, Jamie inched along with her, head still pressed against her legs.

Jamie the Borzoi and Claudia

Finn, an Irish Red Setter, enjoyed letting us coo and scratch his ears. Secret, a Scottish terrier, allowed us to pet him as his owner gave us insight into the breed.

During our important research, we also wanted to see the dogs that were near and dear to our hearts.

Full disclosure: I grew up with dogs, but in the last decade, I’ve been a committed rabbit and cat owner. Being at the Javits Center, though, reminded me why dogs were my first loves.

Please bear with me as I briefly reminisce: my first dog was a Siberian Husky, Ninotchka, whom my parents brought home shortly after they were married. By the time I came along, she was an older girl who was very patient with two toddlers. After an incident with a larger dog who just wanted to lick me to death when I was five (the breed shan’t be named), I had a fear of all dogs that weren’t my beloved husky. That changed a few years later when I met Molly, my godparents’ Rhodesian Ridgeback. I would curl up with Molly and we’d fall asleep together after crashing from full bellies after Thanksgiving dinner. But, my number one girl was a German Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix, Annie, whom we adopted a few years after Ninotchka passed away. We were together for 13 years before Annie passed away at the old age of 15.

Thankfully I was able to see the brethren of my old friends here. I made a beeline for the huskies, where I met Foxy. Wearing black was a poor choice, but like everyone else there, I didn’t care. I just wanted to find a way to take Foxy back to Virginia with me. My plan was foiled, but Foxy did allow me to take a picture with her.

Can you come home with me?

I also gleefully saw the Ridgebacks and both German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, who (not surprisingly) had a very long line.

Claudia saw a poodle, who looked just like her beloved canine companion, Kasey. After staring longingly for a few moments, Claudia decided to greet this doppelganger and quickly became friends. Claudia also had the luck of being on the receiving end of love from the cutest Staffordshire Terrier puppy we’d ever seen.

Have you seen a sweeter puppy?

Our booth was next to the Rottweilers and, decked out in their lederhosen and dirndls, they were extremely popular. When there was finally a small break in their crowd, we darted over to say hi to Maverick, who promptly backed up into me and sat on my feet. Not only were Maverick and his cohorts fashionably attired, but it helped dispel the negative stereotypes about this loving and biddable dog. This is one of the reasons why Meet the Breeds is so important: to inform and educate people, to provide the correct background and knowledge of the different breeds.

True Love!

Attending this event was wonderful in so many ways. Promoting the exhibition and getting such an encouraging response from the crowd was more than we could hope for and it was great to meet our counterparts at the Museum of the Dog. Identity and Restraint: Art of the Dog Collar is going to be a unique exhibition that will show how the relationship between humans and canines have evolved using tangible objects and fine art. But, also, it was rejuvenating. It had been a long week, a long drive to NY, and I was getting delirious. Walking sleepily into the convention center Sunday morning, I was instantly in a good mood getting kisses from the Akitas and Bergamese. We had fun recalling our pets from childhood and exchanging stories with our new colleagues and strangers alike, because nothing brings people together like a shared love of animals. Everywhere I looked, there was just an excitement and joy between attendees, both two-and-four-legged. Really, could there be a more wholesome event? In the words of wholesome Golden Girl Rose Nylund, “that’s dog love in your eyes!”

For more photos of dogs we were able to meet, check out our Facebook page or Instagram.

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