A frequent question I receive in my work is in which country sports I participate. Some people are surprised to learn that I have not focused on any of the disciplines myself, learning about them by observing, reading, and asking lots of questions of experts.

I have not been riding since I was 8 years old. Like any self-respecting little girl, however, I was obsessed with horses but tragically lived in the suburbs of New Jersey with no farms nearby. I grew up in an outdoorsy and adventurous family though, spending summers camping across the U.S. and parts of Canada or visiting relatives in Austria and Germany and winters skiing. Hiking, biking, swimming, sailing, row boating, and the occasional alpine slide ride were standard fare on trips, and we even tried three-wheeling and another time parasailing over Lake George.  

My big chance to ride came on one of our family vacations when the Martha’s Vineyard KOA Campground sign was in sight after a long drive. A nearby hand-spray-painted piece of plywood beckoned, “Horseback Riding Lessons.” I knew it would be an expensive undertaking, so the balancing act of asking nicely without being too much of a pest commenced. My brother wanted to ride too: our parents caved!

Horseback Riding Lesson on Martha’s Vineyard, 1980

Although the Kodachrome 64 slides my dad took do not show it, it is one of the most exhilarating memories of my childhood. I now laugh at the not-so-subtle reminder of the haircut I gave myself the winter before and the annoying wisp of hair that was growing out. A la 1980, we did not wear helmets during our lesson. My brother was almost bucked off. I tried not to laugh while astride my strawberry roan, whose name I surprisingly cannot remember, feeling like I was sitting on top of the world. She was a stubborn cuss who liked to eat grass. The sage advice that echoes in memory from my riding instructor is, “Feel the rhythm of the horse.”

My family is competitive, so every activity required 100% effort and engagement. It was usually fun but sometimes frustrating being the youngest by four years always trying to keep up. When we were not outside, we expended pent up energy playing ping pong in the enclosed porch.  Then my brother got a pellet rifle from our uncle, and we had a new indoor pastime—target shooting in the basement. We quickly fashioned ourselves crack shots, and I distinctly remember attracting a small crowd of teenagers at a volksfest watergun game booth once.

As an adult, I have enjoyed going to the gun range but never aimed at a moving target until a recent staff outing to take a beginner lesson with National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) certified shooting instructor Isobel Ziluca at her Crockett’s Shooting Club in Upperville, VA. Sporting clay clubs and tournaments are set up with several machines that throw different size clay targets to simulate shooting waterfowl, upland birds, and rabbit. The sport was brought to the United States from England in the 1980s, and the NSCA was founded in 1989.

Left to right: Claudia Pfeiffer, NSCA Instructor Isobel Ziluca, NSLM Executive Director Elizabeth von Hassell, NSLM Director of Development Reid O’Connor. photography NSLM Marketing Manager Cynthia Kurtz

Isobel asked about my experience and offered the first bit of advice, “You’ll need to keep both eyes open.” She let me use her Beretta .20 gauge, a great beginner gun. She explained the benefit of reduced recoil of the semi-automatic action: no shoulder or chin bruises in learning to hold the stock against the shoulder and firmly rest the cheek on it.

photography Cynthia Kurtz

Isobel’s range is set up in a semi-circle with the shooter at a stationary location. Most machines throw targets in the air and one on the ground at a set arc and direction across the field, away, or toward the shooter. No two trajectories are exactly the same, being affected by wind and weather. We started with thrower 1A which sends a clay away from the shooter in an arc from the left. I was not scared, but nervous adrenaline was pumping a bit too strongly. I hoped she did not notice that was I was shaking.

There is a lot to remember: point your body, one foot behind the other leaning forward, in the direction where you will want to pull the trigger but aim where the clay will leave the machine. Maintain soft focus, find and trace the path of the clay, sharpen focus, aim at the “belly of the bird,” and pull the trigger when your instincts say, “Go!” I had a hard time focusing past the gun barrel at the clay at first and following my gut. It was an entirely new concept instead of aligning the post and notch with a target.

Isobel was patient and encouraging as I missed several clays. Then it all came together for the first time. I leaned into it and pulverized a target. It was an accident, but it still felt good. My colleague captured the moment. After that, I found myself wanting to analyze and recreate the moment over and over. It is highly addictive.

After several tries, Claudia Pfeiffer gets a solid hit. photography Cynthia Kurtz

I have already had a second lesson (wearing a dress no less) and I got moldable earplugs as a gift for Mother’s Day. I think it is safe to say that I see more clay target lessons in my future.

Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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

A few weeks ago, I got an intriguing email from William Harris, a co-conspirator in the “rewilding” of American portrait painter Ellen Gertrude Emmet Rand (American, 1878-1941):

I hope this finds you doing well. I thought immediately of you when I came across this slender volume from the 1890s, “Out of Town Aquarelles,” watercolor plates by Ellen G. Emmett. Each one depicts an outdoor or athletic activity including a woman riding side saddle as well as a fox hunt. I didn’t know if you were familiar with it. Alexis had not seen it. Though I know the exhibit is over it is still fun since Rand was all of 20 when doing these. Attached are some pictures.

Very Best,
Bill Harris

The “Alexis” to which Bill referred in his email is Alexis Boylan, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Connecticut, with a joint appointment in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program and Associate Director of Humanities Institute. She led the writer of the email, William Ashley Harris, seven other scholars, and myself on an almost 4-year journey beginning with a writers’ retreat at UConn in 2016 (read more: Ellen Emmet Rand Slept Here). The resulting research led us all to contribute essays to the book, Ellen Emmet Rand: Gender, Art, and Business, published by Bloomsbury Academic in November 2020 and edited by Alexis. Her introduction to the book is titled, “The Rewilding of Ellen Emmet Rand.” “Rewilding” refers to returning an animal to its natural ecosystem, and the project solidified Rand’s rightful (and natural) place within art historical discourse.

Researching this project also led me to develop and curate the exhibition, Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand, at the National Sporting Library & Museum, which we closed last April. Bill’s email gave me a welcome excuse to venture back into Rand’s contributions. Although the NSLM exhibition focused on her later work in the 1920s and 1930s, she was gifted at a young age.

In the book, Dear Females, by Rand’s granddaughter and namesake Ellen E. Rand, she drew on correspondences and archives to paint a picture of her grandmother as a young woman and consummate professional committed to financially supporting her family as a successful portrait painter from her earliest days.

Rand first studied at the Art Students League in 1889. Among her instructors was the portrait painter William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1916), and in the summer of 1891, she was among the first students to attend his Summer School of Art at Shinnecock on Long Island (read more: Shinnecock Summer School of Art: The Art Village). Harry Whitney McVickar (American, 1860-1905), an artist, illustrator for the Frederick A. Stokes Company, and a prominent member of the New York City social scene saw Rand’s entry in an end-of-season art exhibition. At the time, McVickar was also the first Art Director for the fledgling periodical, Vogue, and he hired Rand to illustrate the second cover of the now renowned fashion magazine which was targeted toward society and written to appeal to a male demographic (read more: 1892 vs. 2017: What’s Changed, and What Hasn’t, Since the First Issue of Vogue Was Published). Rand was just 16 years old! Additionally, she was hired as an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly and comfortably supported her family with her income in the following years. She was frustrated, however, by not having more time to paint (Rand 20).

Vogue. vol. 1, no. 2. 24 December 1892, Front cover illustrated by E.G. Emmet [source: https://www.vogue.com/article/vogue-125-1892-2017-compare-and-contrast-now-and-then%5D

It is at this point that we return to Bill Harris’s rare book find. Printed two years after Rand was first hired by Vogue, Out-of-Town Aquarelles was released during the Christmas season. The cover with its fine red and green paper, inset chromolithograph of a watercolor, and an ornate embossing, speaks to the quality of the publication. The title page notes that the illustrated aquarelles (French for “watercolor”) within are “Facsimiles of Paintings in Water Color” and includes the titles of six image plates that follow. The publisher is listed as Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, the firm that had also employed McVickar.

Cover: Out-of-Town Aquarelles: Facsimiles of Paintings in Water Color by Ellen G. Emmet, 1894
Title page lists the Frederick A. Stokes Company as the publisher.

The publisher was known for its art books and the quality of its chromolithographic reproductions. “The Critic’s Review” in the 16 December 1889 Pittsburgh Dispatch noted about an earlier book printed by Stokes: “‘chromo’ is, however, an important work of art, for it means the accurate reproduction of color; it means a painting can be practically duplicated and multiplied to give inspiration and pleasure to thousands…, The Fac-similes of Aquarelles which are presented in this book belong to the same high class.”

“After a Day’s Skating.”

The first plate in Rand’s book shows a dashing young couple after ice skating. The female figure is dressed in a beautifully tailored winter outfit complete with a fur and muff. The male figure is stylishly dressed in men’s outerwear. It is a variation on the theme of Rand’s Vogue cover. Both were painted in watercolor; however, the book plate in color is much more lively than the black and white reproduction on the magazine cover.

“A Fair Horse-woman.”

The second plate shows an elegantly turned-out sidesaddle rider ready for a foxhunt. It speaks to Rand’s knowledge as an equestrian, as she herself rode aside.


The third plate illustrates a fashionably-dressed young couple yachting, and the fourth a dapper polo player. The latter sport had taken hold in the United States after the founding of the Newport Polo Grounds in Connecticut in 1876.

“A Polo Player.”
“A Fox Hunter.”

The above plates of the romanticized gentleman polo player and the well-healed foxhunter are a foreshadowing of the man Rand would marry in 1911. William Blanchard Rand was 9 years Ellen’s junior, a polo player, and a horseman. Together they built the town and country life in Salisbury, Connecticut of which she had dreamed in her early years and for which she worked to support her entire career. She was a lifelong equestrian, but it was not until 1929 when she was in her fifties that she finally experienced the exhilarating sport of foxhunting following Blanchard when he became Master of Old Lebanon Hunt.

“Ready for the Toboggan.”

In 1896, just two years after Out-of-Town Aquarelles was published, the young Rand earned enough income to travel to Paris where she became the first female student of Frederic William MacMonnies (American, 1863-1947) and upon returning, embarked on a four-decade career as a pioneering and financially successful female portrait painter. The folders of early original drawings Rand had sold, which her granddaughter inherited, contained notes “that the work is never to be shown to any art dealer or critic.” (Rand, 20) Although Rand left the illustration world behind, her early works speak to her talent, dreams, and aspirations.

Thank you, Bill, for sharing this gem. It is another eye-opening layer of the rewilding of Ellen Emmet Rand.

Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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 most awkward and thought-provoking moments I have ever experienced at the National Sporting Library & Museum was in my early years as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator when the Museum first opened. It was in 2012, and I was a young and enthusiastic curator of a fine art collection which had grown over the previous decades through generous donations and bequests to the Library and was transferred to the new space under Museum standards and care. I was conducting a private tour with a potential sponsor considering underwriting bus transport for student groups.

Franklin Brooke Voss (American, 1880–1953), Portrait of Mrs. William C. Langley, Aside on Sandown, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Eleanor Langley Fletcher, 1962

As we wound our way through the galleries, discussion flowed freely. We chatted about highlights of the collection, challenges of new museums, and growth of the collections. We built a good rapport, and as the tour ended, we exchanged contact information. I was honored by the kind compliments offered as we said goodbye. Then, the visitor paused for a moment and remarked:

“You know, this museum is really beautiful, but I haven’t seen a single woman represented in these spaces today.”

Marie-Louise Radziwill (American, b. 1956), The Maryland Hunt Cup, 1973, bronze, 9 x 12 1/2 x 9 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of the artist, 1978

I was taken aback, but upon further reflection, it was an astute observation and largely correct. At that time, there were few works by female artists or depictions of women on view in the Museum galleries. Frankly, we did not have many artworks in this category (in addition to other notable gaps) in the permanent collection that met the bar for Museum display based on condition and prominence set forth in our Collections Management Policy. Needless to say, we did not get the underwriting, and that day I understood that I needed to focus more on making our art collection installations, acquisitions, and permanent and loan exhibitions more diverse representations of the sporting culture of our past, the community our mission serves today, and future interest.

Marie-Rosalie Bonheur (French 1822–1899), Lion studies, oil on canvas, 9 1/8 x 12 1/2 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of the Estate of Milton Ritzenberg, 2018

Let me be clear. I am not a revisionist in my role at NSLM. My dedication to our institution is to drill down to finding an accurate account of sporting art and culture in any given era. There are many times when these concepts have not historically converged, but illustrations and satirical images fill in the gaps, opening our eyes to individuals and their stories.

Salle Foster, “The Sporting Woman: A Book of Days,” 1989. Little, Brown, and Company, NSLM Collection; reproduction of John Collet (English, 1720 – 1780), “The Ladies Shooting Poney,” hand-colored mezzotint, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, New Haven.

We have worked hard over the years, not as a politically correct endeavor. The National Museum of Women in that Arts mission and #fivewomenartists campaign reminds us that women have historically been significantly underrepresented across museums (Further reading: Women in Art: The Double X Factor, 2017 blog). Acknowledging this, means recognizing that if museums continue to prioritize prominent artists from past eras, this then perpetuates the selection of male over female artists.  We countered this at the NSLM by creating a Collecting Plan to equally consider underrepresented artists and subjects as part of our growth. 

Mildred Sands Kratz (American, 1928 – 2013), End of the Line, 1970, watercolor on paper, sight size 20 3/4 x 28 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Patricia Cox Panzarella and Thomas Panzarella, 2020

Additionally, we have looked to curating exhibitions featuring female solo artists and introduced new scholarship on sporting women and art, including The Art of Women and the Sporting Life, Clarice Smith: Power & Grace, and Sidesaddle, 1690-1935. Most recently we presented, Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand, a project that re-established the artist’s significant contributions to sporting portraiture during the heyday of sporting life in the U.S. and her prominent career as a pioneering female artist in her lifetime.

Ellen Emmet Rand (American, 1875-1941), Miss Emily Davie, ex-Whipper-in to the Aiken Junior Drag, 1932, oil on canvas,
48 ½ x 31 inches, on loan from the Collection of Geoffrey N. Bradfield to “Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand” exhibition, October 4, 2019 – June 30, 2020

Women’s History Month offers us an opportunity to reflect and reminds us to set new goals for the future, not just in this month but year-round. Women have always been an integral part of sporting culture and art, and it is imperative that we preserve the record of their endeavors and accomplishments.

Clarice Smith, (American, b.1933), Gallop, 2009, oil with gold and copper leaf on canvas, on 5-panel screen, 50 x 77 1/2 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Clarice Smith, 2015, © Clarice Smith

Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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

I was excited to write about the addition to the National Sporting Library & Museum’s permanent collection of a painting by Henry Stull (American, 1851–1913), one of a generous gift of 16 works in 2020, currently on view in the Museum. I thought it would be a straightforward blog post announcing the work and sharing some information about it.

Henry Stull (American, 1851–1913), oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Katrina Hickox Becker, 2020
Title plaque mounted on frame reads “BUCHANAN / Derby 1884 / I. Murphy Up Henry Stull”

The signed and undated composition depicts a chestnut horse with a blaze and a white sock and a Black jockey up wearing maroon racing silks with a red sash and a red cap. In the background, barns are visible. The frame bears the title “Buchanan / Derby 1884 / I. Murphy Up Henry Stull” referencing American jockey Isaac Burns Murphy’s win of the 1884 Kentucky Derby aboard Buchanan, the racehorse’s maiden race (meaning its first ever win). The desire for a painting of arguably the most talented jockey of his day, who would win three Kentucky Derbys in total, and the winning racehorse to commemorate a momentous tenth running of the Derby is perfectly understandable. In a short video presented by the Kentucky Derby Museum, Director of Curatorial & Educational Affairs Chris Goodlett gives a brief overview of Murphy’s career including an image of Buchanan at 0:20 sec.

Screenshot at 0:20 seconds – VIEW FULL VIDEO ON VIMEO HERE

When I watched the video, my suspicions were confirmed. I had come across the same image reproduced on a collectors card, “Buchanan, 1884” in a series titled “Horse Star Cards,”  published in 1991. The black and white photographic reproduction of another painting of Buchanan presents a horse with no blaze or white sock. The image source is Churchill Downs, the famed track in Louisville, KY, opened in 1875 that has been home to the Kentucky Derby since its first running.

Recto & Verso: “Buchanan, 1884” Horse Star Cards, #10, image: Churchill Downs/Kinetic [image source: https://www.ebay.com/itm/MINT-KENTUCKY-DERBY-TRADING-CARD-HORSE-STAR-CARD-BUCHANAN-1884-10-/124431676922 ]

The sporting artist Henry Stull who painted NSLM’s composition was also a racehorse owner and was known for his accurate equine portraits. The unnamed artist of the second painting seems to have had a competent understanding of horse anatomy as well. The technique of the latter bears strong similarities to works by animal artist Harry Lyman (American, 1856–1933) who painted other early Kentucky Derby winners: Aristides, the first winner of the Kentucky Derby, and Spokane in 1889. Both artists made a living painting accurate portraits of horse conformation (the physical shape and structure of an animal). The differences between the works point to the extreme likelihood that they depict two different horses. As it is unlikely that Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum would possess inaccurate records of its winning equines, it is almost certain that NSLM’s painting is not of Buchanan.

Maybe you are asking yourself why I would so readily accept the possibility that the title plaque on the frame would have inaccuracies. Labels such as these can be added at any time, and I have come across many over the years that turned out to have errors. I research with the idea that I expect to find anomalies. With time, memory fades and legends are made.

Detail of painting by Henry Stull in the National Sporting Library & Museum collection

This approach then begs the question of whether or not the sitter is Isaac Burns Murphy. The painting is small, 11 x 14 inches, and there is not much detail in the facial portrait. Although Murphy tragically died of heart failure at the age of 34 in 1896, he won at least 500 races in his career alone, leaving much to be researched.

Further complicating the picture (no pun intended), the latter quarter of the 19th century was an exciting time in horse racing history in which not just Murphy but a number of winning Black jockeys dominated the sport and broke race records. Several attained success and fame riding for numerous racehorse owners until, with the spread of Jim Crow laws, they retired or left the American racing scene for Britain and Europe.

Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton and Willie Simms, for example, were just two racing at that time who also won Kentucky Derby races. Clayton was the youngest jockey to win the Derby in 1892 at the age of 15 and took first place in an impressive 144 races in the 1895 season. In the same year, Simms was the first Black jockey to compete in Britain and was an international sensation. He was among the first to ride with short stirrups, handily beating his contenders riding in the traditional long stirrup seat at the first Spring meeting in Newmarket, England. Simms was reported in the 07 April 1895 St. Louis Dispatch to have been paid a salary of $12,500 and an additional incentive of $5,000 to go oversees that year, totaling an equivalent of over $500,000 today!

The black and white photos of Clayton and Simms above show intriguing similarities of jockey silk patterns to the NSLM’s Stull painting and warrant a dive into registered racing colors and race records for comparisons. I revel in going down these rabbit holes, but for now, I am sad to leave you with more questions than answers. As I continue to pursue a confirmation of the identity of the jockey, we must content ourselves in the meantime with the knowledge that the sitter personifies the young men whose epic careers lost footing in sporting memory in the Jim Crow era and resurgent prejudice. Progress has been made in the past decades to recover the storied careers of these gifted horsemen, but as this painting illustrates, there is much that remains to be done. We celebrate the triumphs and athleticism of these talented individuals whose names must be recorded, remembered, and revered.

Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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

The old adage goes, “Opportunity knocks but once,” but sometimes it’s twice. Two-weekends ago we had the second opportunity to showcase the National Sporting Library & Museum at the Washington Winter Show (WWS). Each year they invite a museum to exhibit at American University’s Katzen Center in Washington, DC, during their charity antique show in January. This year, they ventured into the virtual world due to COVID-19 with a theme of “@Home with the Washington Winter Show” and welcomed previous exhibitors to present live tours and pre-recorded segments. We went live in the Library (thanks to Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator Valerie Peacock’s camerawork) and uploaded a virtual 360° guided tour of our current exhibition, Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art.

Screen shot of virtual 360° guided tour of Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art

Coincidentally, WWS’s theme eight years ago was “The Thrill of the Chase,” and we fit right in. NSLM was asked to curate the exhibition at the Katzen Center, and we jumped at the opportunity. We highlighted art and books including our 49-inch-long silver coach which was even featured on the front cover of the catalogue, and I wrote an essay, “Sporting Pastimes: Art & Objects of Leisure.” It was a great chance to introduce NSLM’s then-new Museum, which had just opened a little over a year earlier, to a broader audience. A primer on the history of five country sports, the exhibit was broken up into five sections: angling, wingshooting, coaching, foxhunting, and horse racing.

2013 Washington Winter Show catalogue front cover featuring: Park Drag Tabletop Centerpiece, c. 1910, English sterling silver on a marble and wooden base, complete with custom-built, mahogany travel case made by Elkington & Co. Ltd. Silversmiths, London (not pictured), 17 ½ x 41 ½ x 9 ½ inches (excluding the base)
Museum purchase with funds donated by: Hector Alcalde, Helen K. Groves, Manuel H. Johnson, Jacqueline B. Mars and Jacqueline L. Ohrstrom, 2011

The NSLM’s English sterling silver model of a park drag was the centerpiece of the installation, surrounded by a decorative coaching horn inscribed on the bell “London to Bristol 1805” and a set of four coaching prints after Henri D’Ainecy, Comte de Montpezat (French, 1817-1859), La Vie d’un Gentilhomme en Toutes Saisons: Printemps, Été, Automne, and Hiver. Published in 1846, the title of the set translates to the “Life of a Gentleman in All Seasons” and depicts pleasure driving in spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

Coaching display at the 2013 Washington Winter Show

Because the installation was only on view for four days, it allowed us to install several books in fanned positions to reveal their fore-edge paintings. Always popular on a rare books tour, these curiosities are made by clamping a book in a vise and painting a scene with watercolor on the edge. Once completed, the book is returned to its natural position, and the page ends are gilt, masking the painting in the book’s natural position.

Fore-edge books from the John H. and Martha Daniels Collection in the 2013 Washington Show

It was an exciting time for the growth of NSLM’s art collection. At the center of the angling section in the exhibit was The Day’s Catch, 1864, by 19th century British artist John Bucknell Russell, one of a pair by the artist which had been recently donated by Dr. & Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan. Still-life paintings were popularized in Britain in the mid-1800s, and Russell’s highly detailed compositions of arranged fish on a riverbank were academic exercises showing his mastery in painting every glistening fish scale.

John Bucknell Russell (British, c. 1819 – 1893), Day’s Catch, 1864; oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches; Gift of
Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2011

Also on view were a set of three prints (after) Samuel Howitt (English, c. 1765 – 1822), Pheasant Shooting, Partridge Shooting, and Wild Duck Shooting. The 1809 first edition aquatints were among an impressive donation of 120 early 19th-century fine prints given to NSLM by Mr. and Mrs. Norman R. Bobins in 2012. The collection reflects the popularity country pursuits had attained across Britain and a revival of fine print making during this era.

Wingshooting section in 2013 Washington Winter Show with set of Samuel Howitt prints at left.

One of the museum collection favorites was also prominently on view, John Emms, Foxhounds and Terrier in a Stable Interior, 1878. The large oil painting set the bar for the growth of the collection as part of an incredibly generous donation of 15 British sporting artworks made by Felicia Warburg Rogan in 2008. Alongside the Emms hung a painting by American artist Franklin Brooke Voss, Portrait of Elida B. Langley, Aside on Sandown, 1921. The early 20th-century painting of a smartly turned out sidesaddle rider, represents the end of the time period in which highly skilled women participated in hunting, predominantly riding aside instead of astride.

FranlJohn Emms (English, 1841-1912), Foxhounds and Terrier in a Stable Interior, 1878, oil on canvas
39 x 52 inches, Gift of Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008
Foxhunting Section in the 2013 Washington Winter Show

In the exhibit, the Emms was also flanked by an 1850s light-blue hunt vest embroidered with running foxes and fox masks; the riding boots of philanthropist, sportsman, and art collector Paul Mellon; and a natural horn manufactured in 1898 by Coesnon & Cie., Paris. The latter is a style of large circular or “curly” horn used in stag hunts and in early English foxhunts before the traditional, straight short horn began to be adopted towards the end of the 17th century. While the NSLM’s Collecting Plan focuses on fine art, we have accepted a few objects such as these into the collection as well.

Detail of: British, mid-19th century, foxhunting vest, cotton on canvas lined with dark blue, medium blue and neutral polished cotton, brown leather facing, and brass buttons, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2011

The racing section included loans relating to famed Triple Crown winner Secretariat. The iconic blue and white checked silks of Penny Chenery’s stable from Washington & Lee University collection drew viewers’ attention. Also selected for the display was Proctor Knott (The First Futurity, 1888, Jerome Park, Sheepshead Bay, a Close Finish), c. 1888, by Louis Maurer (American, 1832 – 1932). It is a study for the large painting of the first Futurity Stakes held in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s collection in Saratoga, NY. Shelby “Pike” Barnes is shown in the lead astride the bay racehorse Proctor Knott. Barnes was the leading North American jockey in both 1888 and 1889 and was the first jockey to win over 200 races in a year. Important scholarship (much of it done at the NSLM’s Library) has established the legacy of the highly-accomplished African-American jockeys like Barnes who who dominated the sport in the late 19th century and were sadly driven out by Jim Crow laws.

Horse Racing section in 2013 Washington Winter Show

It was an invaluable experience working on the exhibit in 2013, although I hesitate to call it “work.” This year’s show was surprisingly enjoyable as well—one “for the books” as they say. Just as with everything else related to the pandemic, it was a unique opportunity to bring in new friends and showcase what our organization has to offer. Here’s to a strong start to 2021!

2013 Washington Winter Show co-chair Mason Blavin, a much younger me; Jonathan Willen, Executive Director of the Washington Winter Show; and 2013 Co-Chair Anne Elmore

Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since her curatorial position was first underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art, the recently opened exhibition and accompanying catalogue, explore the birth, growth, and evolution of jump racing and depictions of the sport by artists through to the present day. On numerous occasions, I have been questioned about and flat out accused of an egregious typo in the title. “Chace” is not an error but an early alternate spelling. (Read about a quirky set of 1831 prints of pigs riding pigs in the Library’s collection, The Grand Steeple Chace at Hogs Norton, here.)  For readers of the Chronicle of the Horse, believe it or not, “chacing” was right under our noses for a long time. Between 1945 and 1990, the masthead featured the archaic spelling. We went with it for the exhibition for its quirky appeal and historic roots.

The Chronicle of the Horse masthead between 1945 and 1990

It is not surprising that a sport would need to develop and gain a following of enthusiasts and potential patrons and collectors before sporting artists would see the merits of depicting the pastime in earnest. Steeplechasing’s murky roots begin in Ireland with “pounding matches” in which two foxhunters, adept at navigating the natural and manicured obstacles of the countryside, ran a match race against one another along a loosely designated route until one pulled out of the race or fell. The name “steeplechase” comes from races being organized from church steeple to church steeple with multiple participants and was in use in Britain by the early 19th century. By this time, a variety of earlier activities like “shooting flying”—gunning for birds on the wing with the improvement of firearms—foxhunting, stag hunting, and coaching had already been captured by British artists such as Wenceslaus Horlor (1607–1707), John Wootton (1686–1764), James Seymour (1702–1752), George Stubbs (1724 –1806), Francis Sartorius (1734–1804), and Samuel Howitt (1756–1822). Horse racing on flat courses had also gained a national following and artistic inspiration.

The earliest images of steepchasing are races organized across the countryside. They show farmers, villagers, and foxhunters along the way, and paid spectators at the finish, enjoying the exhilarating fast-paced sport.

(after) James Pollard (British, 1775–1852), The Aylesbury Grand Steeplechase: The Light Weight Stake, plate II; one of a set of four, 1836, aquatint on paper, 15 1/4 × 20 1/2 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum,
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Norman R. Bobins, 2012

Courses that already held flat races, such as Aintree in Liverpool, still home to the famed Grand National, began to build a variety of obstacles and incorporate steeplechasing into their racing schedules in the 1830s as well. These commercial venues driven by big crowds and gambling also became a subject for artists.

Robert Stone (British, 19th century), Steeplechasers; set of four, c. 1850, oil on panel, 6 x 12 inches, Private Collection

As more and more gentleman riders embraced the activity, a new generation of sporting artists produced oil paintings, watercolors, and prints focusing on steeplechasing. Among them Henry Thomas Alken painted the example below of Market Harborough, where races continued for decades hosted by the area hunt club, becoming a sanctioned steeplechase under the oversight of the newly formed Grand National Hunt Committee (now the National Hunt Committee) in 1866.

Object No. 2014.199 Henry Thomas Alken (English, 1785–1851) A Steeplechase at Market Harborough, Leicestershire, Bad Fall at a Paling Fence, ca. 1840-50, oil on canvas, 10 × 14 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Paul Mellon Collection Photo: David Stover © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

These early images document the emergence of jump racing as an organized sport and are a teaser for Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art. The eclectic array of paintings, sculptures, and works on paper in the exhibition represents the evolution of the sport and art, the variety of artistic talent, and the stories of steeplechasing from legendary to local, over the course of two centuries. The exhibit is open through March 21, 2021; for current visitation guidelines and to book tickets, please visit our website.

From left to right: Henry Stull (American, 1851–1913), Challenger, 1899, oil on canvas, 23 x 27 inches, Collection of Coleman D. Callaway, III; Henry Stull (American, 1851–1913), Flying the Liverpool, 1904, oil on canvas, 16 x 24 inches, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame; William Smithson Broadhead (British, 1888–1960), Battleship and Edward Washington, 1955, oil on canvas, 32 1/4 x 40 inches, National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame; Eugene Louis Lami (French, 1800–1890), Steeplechase at Raincy; set of 6, 1832, each pen and ink with watercolor on paper, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

We hope you can join us on-line for Virtual Coffee with the Curator on October 3, 2020. I will be presenting a tour of the galleries with ultra-high resolution 360° images made with 42 photographs stitched together. To register for this program, click here.

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

“When one door closes, another opens.” Most may know this saying but not be aware that it was attributed to Alexander Graham Bell on his deathbed, or that there is a second half to the quote: “but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

It was exceedingly difficult for the NSLM to close its doors to the public just a few weeks after opening of Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration by American artist Jamie Wyeth. The inspiring exhibition organized by the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA, is exactly the type of uplifting experience that brings hope and inspiration, especially in a time when we all crave positivity and happy distractions from the world around us.

Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration virtual tour

It also quickly became clear that we would be unable to complete the inbound shipments to open the April 2020 exhibition, The Thrill of the ‘Chace: Steeplechase in Art. We had aligned it with the 100th anniversary of the Middleburg Spring Races to celebrate and examine the sport, its art, and its history. After all, that is the mission of the National Sporting Library & Museum, to promote, preserve, and share the literature, art, and culture of equestrian, angling, and field sports.

The best laid plans of mice and men… the entire spring Museum schedule crumbled within weeks. The much-anticipated reveal of the magnificent additions to the permanent collection of two rare one-third life-size sculptures, Percheron Mare: Messaline and Foal and Percheron Stallion: Rhum by Herbert Haseltine (American, 1877 –1962) was no longer possible. They remained in storage as we worked from home. Another important and generous donation also was still off view: two works by Frank Weston Benson and three by Ogden Minton Pleissner. The Librarians’ Angling in Special Collections exhibit lay dormant in the Forrest E. Mars Exhibit Hall.

Angling in Special Collections online Library exhibition

A growing sense of disappointment, sadness, and loss loomed overhead as we contemplated the doors that had closed, the duration of the closures, and the reality of extended limited access to the exhibition experience as we knew it. We are an organization that by its very definition exists to serve its community. At all levels we thought about what we could do. How would we be able to continue to connect remotely and with strategic visits to campus?

We learned… quickly. We “pivoted” as the industry calls it. Executive Director Elizabeth von Hassell led with calm and kindness and was a conduit for all. Development Associate Lauren O’Neill recorded several videos of Collections Manager Lauren Kraut and myself highlighting artwork in the galleries just before the Executive Order to close was announced. George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian Michelle Guzman managed IT needs as we set up our virtual office in Microsoft Teams and learned to Zoom. Associate Director of Development Reid O’Connor coordinated person-to-person calls and letters to our community. Facilities Manager Aaron Patten took advantage of the closure and coordinated a much needed comprehensive, building-wide HVAC upgrade in the Library. Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator Valerie Peacock found online tour platforms and recorded educational content.  Mars Technical Services Librarian Erica Libhart learned how to use Adobe Spark. I (happily) jumped into 360° photography. We ramped up what we were already doing on social media and Marketing Manager Jody West revamped the website.

Leading the Field: Ellen Emmet Rand virtual tour

The results were an impressive amount of content in a short window: a virtual tour of Ellen Emmet Rand: Leading the Field, the Wyeth exhibition, and the permanent collection; an online exhibition of Angling in Special Collections; an NSLM YouTube channel, virtual Sunday Sketch, and virtual Coffee with the Curator. Through this time, we stayed in touch with our members and followers and made new friends across the globe.

What does the future hold? We are committed to continuing to connect online with virtual interactions, and we look forward to reopening our physical doors on Friday, July 17, with limited ticketed access. The number one priority is safety, so the museum experience and new exhibit designs will look a little bit different with physical distancing measures in place.

In Bronze: Herbert Haseltine opens Friday, July 17

What will you see in-person and have access to online? Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration has been extended through January 3, 2021. In Bronze: Herbert Haseltine and the Pleissner and Benson acquisitions, curated by Lauren Kraut, will be on view through August 23. We are excited to rescheduled Thrill of the ‘Chace to open September 9.  

The “new normal” calls for flexibility and a can-do spirit. I am proud to be a member of this small and mighty team. When one door closed, we have found ways to open others. The show must (and will) go on.


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

It would have been easy for Jamie Wyeth to rest on the laurels of his family’s legacy and The Brandywine Tradition that grounded him. As a third-generation painter, he is the son of famed Andrew Wyeth and taught by his aunt, Carolyn Wyeth, who in turn had honed her talent by learning from Jamie’s grandfather, Newell Convers Wyeth. Jamie would have easily attained commercial success staying in this lane. But he didn’t.

Wyeth said in an interview in 2003, “I’m not interested in interesting faces. What I am interested in is a face that I’ve known for years, something that I can go beyond just the face and go into the head of the person.”[1] It is then completely unsurprising that he continually returned to his wife and muse Phyllis Mills Wyeth as a sitter.

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

Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration, the exhibition organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art currently at the National Sporting Library & Museum, is a beautiful tribute celebrating Phyllis Wyeth’s spirit. (To read more about the Wyeths’ life together and her equestrian pursuits, read the blog, Phyllis Mills Wyeth Comes Home) The paintings and works on paper, however, also develop a picture of the directions Jamie Wyeth’s artistic path took over a span of fifty years.

Cover of Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration hardbound exhibition catalogue

Wyeth once said he gravitated toward oil paints because they looked “edible.”[2] While his painter’s palette, arguably, may not have changed much over the years, with juicy dollops of pure pigment, the way he mixed or didn’t mix them certainly did. He evolved from the more earthy colors of his earlier work to embracing bolder and bolder colors. Photographer Robert Weingarten immortalized Wyeth’s palette in 2005 as part of a series of photographs of various accomplished artists’ palettes. The lush green at top left of the image below is then in the words of Director of the Brandywine River Museum of Art Thomas Padon, “Phyllis’s Green.” Wyeth selected a vibrant, almost neon green for the front cover of the exhibition’s catalogue to represent his wife.

Robert Weingarten (American, b. 1941) Palette Series: Jamie Wyeth #1, 2005, Archival pigment print on Epson Ultra Smooth Fine Art paper, 21 1/4 × 30 inches, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, 2016.129.4 © Robert Weingarten [source: https://collections.artsmia.org/art/126766/palette-series-jamie-wyeth-1-robert-weingarten]

Is there symbolism in the green? It is a color that comes to the fore more and more in paintings of Phyllis over time. It is a hue that reverberates spring, rebirth, and vitality.

Southern Light, 1994, documents Phyllis’s recovery from a significant surgery, yet another battle hard-fought with the spinal cord injury she sustained in a car accident when she was 20 years old. She had been unsure if she would be able to make the trip to Southern Island, Maine, again, but she was able to recuperate there.[3] In the middle of the composition with a soft palette, is a swirling pop of color, the churning green water seen through the window in the distance.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946) Southern Light, 1994, enamel and oil on board, 36 x 48 inches, on loan from The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Painted 20 years later, Night Vision, 2002, is on the surface a commemoration of the Vietnam War. It is an artistic interpretation of the view through night vision equipment. Phyllis Wyeth, however, was a sitter for it: she is also the determined soldier at the center of this green and yellow starry, starry, night. At the time she would have been about 62 years old and in a wheelchair.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946) Night Vision, 2002, oil on canvas, 39 ¼ x 29 ¼ inches, on loan from The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Jamie completed Catching Pollen, 2012, a decade later. For it, he revisited a painting he had done in 2004, Catching Snowflakes. Both recall a young and exuberant Phyllis, but the 2012 version’s palette electrifies the scene. It is a brilliant color study; the riotous backlit yellows and greens offset the cool purples in the foreground, and the red flower anchors the subject’s face at the center.

Jamie Wyeth (American, b. 1946) Catachin Pollen, 2012, enamel, oil, and gesso on canvas, 60 x 40 inches, on loan from The Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

When Phyllis passed away, Jamie retouched a painting for Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration, Winner’s Circle, first completed in 2012. In contemplating the direction of his palette choices, I found the changes striking. I had not seen the work before the exhibition and was privileged to view an image of the original version. The vivid greens added over shades of browns are a far cry from Jamie’s Brandywine roots: the re-touch completely transforms the composition with a transcendental halo, the pièce de résistance of a life well lived and well-painted as only Jamie Wyeth could, over a lifetime of going into the head of Phyllis Wyeth.

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

“Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration” is on view through August 30, 2020. It was organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and was generously underwritten at NSLM by Jacqueline B. Mars.

[1] Jamie Wyeth: Art as Witness to History, (The Kennedy Center Performing Arts Series, 15 May 2003), Web, 25 May 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN7uHQUYcFE>
[2] David Houston, Jamie Wyeth, (Boston: MFA Publications, 2014), 29
[3] Ibid., 128


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

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 August 30, 2020. It was organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and was generously underwritten at NSLM by Jacqueline B. Mars.


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

When I walked into Joan Danziger’s studio for the first time in 2016, it was magical. An authentic reflection of the artist’s creative output for the past four decades, it is both a working space and a showcase.

I was there to view a new wire and glass sculpture series Danziger had embarked upon of horses. I knew of her previous beetle sculptures, and my interest was piqued. Against a backdrop of over 50 sparkling insects hanging on a wall were two completed equine works, Riders of the Blue Spirit and Black Star, and a few others that had been started.

Black Star, 2016, metal and glass, 32 x 48 x 17 inches

They were something new, something different. As I walked around the sculptures taking pictures of them, I began to analyze how they were different. They were joyful, they made me smile, and they were free-spirited; there was something noteworthy about how they were created that made them unique.

Riders of the Blue Spirit, 2016, metal and glass, 29 x 40 x 29 inches

Danziger has completed 17 horses in the past three years since that visit, of which we have on loan 13 in her current solo exhibition at the National Sporting Library & Museum, Canter & Crawl: The Glass Sculpture of Joan Danziger. Her sometimes whimsical works have a freedom and airiness that is emphasized by their mixed media and construction. Each has a metal base with a soldered rod around which up to four layers of chicken wire are wrapped and shaped. Because her materials are so lightweight, Danziger can project her forms, sometimes as much as 3 feet, away from their footings. The negative space created around the works adds an almost ethereal quality. The support rods are mostly hidden in the finished sculpture, heightening the allusion of her horses as archetypes of dancing, galloping, jumping, and frolicking.

Golden Prince, 2017, metal, glass, dichroic glass, and brass wire, 39 x 53 x 25 inches

The contemporary sculptor’s pieces are obviously not meant to be perfect representations of horse anatomy but are an exploration of the spirit and nature of the horse. Danziger’s studio assistant Rebecca Long, a representational sculptor, creates the basic forms, and Danziger instructs her on elongating and exaggerating proportions. In her early career, Danziger was an abstract painter having studied at Cornell University. Relying on her knowledge of color theory and abstraction, she cuts and applies glass shards and braids wire to the forms to create mosaic surfaces that are an intriguing play of light, shadow, texture, translucency, and opacity.

Detail of Riders of the Blue Spirit, 2016

As a photographer, I can attest to how difficult it is to capture the nuances and subtleties of three-dimensional art in a photograph. We at NSLM are excited to be the first venue for Joan Danziger’s uplifting horse series so that visitors may experience these sparkling jewels in person. If you haven’t seen the exhibition yet and are within driving distance, I encourage you to visit Canter & Crawl before it closes on January 5, 2020.

Panorama of one of the Canter & Crawl galleries.


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