I was recently at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, Virginia with a friend, who is also the employee of a museum, and we were enjoying the Cast of Punt Reliefs from the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri (here’s a link, it’s wonderful!). It’s a replica relief of the original and the only thing separating Us from It was a railing…how we wanted to touch it! Museum employees, who know better, wanted to touch! The lure of the hieroglyphics and depictions of underwater creatures was too much!

Look at that squid!
Detail of Cast of Punt Reliefs from the Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahri, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia.

One of the first rules at most museums is No Touching. But, why is that? The simplest answer is that the oils from our hands leave residue on the object and can create damage. You often see museum employees with the telltale gloves, protecting the objects from ourselves.

The image below shows what happens when metal is touched. This is from our dog collar collection – at some point, the metal was handled. This is not surprising, considering this was utilitarian object. It was meant to be used and it was. We can’t be upset by that. Now that it’s part of the museum’s collection, we need to preserve it the best we can and, since it’s metal, we wear gloves.

Every Collections Manager’s worst nightmare!
NSLM Dog Collar Collection, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2015

If you’ve visited the Vatican, you may have heard that rubbing St. Peter’s foot will bring good luck or help you get into Heaven. Not just any sculpture (please do not run around Vatican City touching all the feet of St Peter you find), but perhaps it is the most famous one, attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio (Italian, c. 1240-1300/1310).

St. Peter Enthroned, attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, bronze,
St. Peter’s Basilica

Take a look at those feet!!

Detail St. Peter Enthroned, attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio, bronze,
St. Peter’s Basilica

His right foot is almost completely gone and his left one looks like a hoof. Of course, this is over centuries of pilgrims and visitors coming into contact with his feet, so it is an extreme example. But it does give you an idea of what could eventually happen.

The rule of thumb has been to always wear gloves when handling objects, but interestingly, there are instances when gloves can actually cause more harm than good. Works on paper, like unframed prints, don’t require gloves because it’s possible that pre-existing tears can catch on the gloves and create further damage. As one professional writes, “Gloves make you clumsy.” Instead, we wash (and dry!) our hands thoroughly beforehand and ensure we don’t touch our faces, transferring any oils. This is harder than it sounds. It’s like when you’re supposed to be quiet, but then you can’t stop laughing. Once you start thinking about it, suddenly, your nose starts itching!

There are the white cotton gloves and the nitrile gloves. I prefer the nitrile because they fit better. I have found that the white gloves are either too big or too small, there’s no Baby Bear size, and having gloves that don’t fit right is a problem. You don’t want something to slip out of your hands because you don’t have a firm grip.

Seen as intimidating, some museums are trying to move away from this by having touching stations. During 2019’s NSLMology: The Science of Sporting Art, the chemistry section had a bronze mare and foal on display that asked visitors to touch.

Students at the Middleburg Charter School touching our study collection bronze,
Pierre-Jules Mene, Jument Arabe et son Paulain (Arab Mare and Foal), bronze on wooden base,
12 x 19 x 9 3/4 inches, Gift of the Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Atkinson, 2014

The VMFA has a clever idea to educate visitors who are curious as to why we can’t touch, and that’s to show what happens when we do touch. In the lobby of the museum, near the ticket desk, there’s a touching station that presents an array of mediums found within the museum, like metal, fabric, and wood. Each sample has the top half covered by plexiglass and the bottom half exposed, encouraging people to touch. It shows how the materials are affected by continual handling: the area covered by plexi maintains its original condition whilst the exposed half reveals the damage incurred from the oils on our hands.


“Tempted to Touch” station at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia

As for us, we put our hands in our pockets like naughty children and laughed at ourselves that even museum employees are susceptible to the siren’s call to Touch Objects.

References:

Art History News, The white glove fallacy, published September 29, 2012

Image of St. Peter: Visit Vatican City

Image of St. Peter’s foot: Reach the World

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

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

The permanent collection at the National Sporting Library & Museum has over 1,300 objects, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, weathervanes, and dog collars. That’s right, dog collars.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. and Mrs. Tim Greenan began collecting dog collars, eventually amassing 187 of them. In 2014, they donated their entire collection to the NSLM, making the museum one of the largest (if not the largest) repositories in the world for these niche objects.

Dr. Greenan and the Curatorial department are developing an exhibition for 2022 that will display the objects alongside works of art that feature similar collars. The show will also highlight the relationship between dogs and humans and how that relationship has evolved throughout the centuries.

It’s hard to remember a time when dogs have not been Man’s Best Friend snuggling up on our laps and eagerly awaiting our return. Initially, they were trained for war, hunting, working, fighting, and scouting. The one shown below dates from the 18th century and is firmly utilitarian.  The spikes repelled attackers and protected the canine.

Dog Collar, 18th century, British, metal,
7 inches diameter x 1 inches wide

The brass one below would have been used for bear baiting or boar hunting. It is important to remember to not look at such collars through 21st-century eyes, but rather keep it in context of the 18th century. While we view it as cruel, bear baiting was considered a regular sport for all societal classes at the time. This collar is inscribed “WILLIAM ECKLES ISLAND HILL 1792.” The sharp sawtooth edges would have protected the neck of the dog wearing it.

Dog collar, 1792, British, brass,
6 inches diameter x 2 1/2 inches wide

The large horsehair collar below (and my favorite!) is from the 18th century, possibly from Goa, India. It is decorated with orange agate cabochons and is almost 12 inches in diameter. You can imagine that this is also quite heavy and would probably have been worn by a mastiff.

Dog collar, 18th century, possibly Goa, India, horsehair leather with agate cabochons and brass mounts with ring attachment
11 3/4 inches diameter x 2 7/8 inches height x 3 1/2 inches wide

As dogs were domesticated, they also served as a status symbol: the breed, pedigree, and, of course, the collar. Tiffany & Co., known for their wonderful and highly sought-after jewelry, also produced many everyday objects, including the below silver dog collar from 1831-1832. It is inscribed with the owner’s name, “GEO. H. INGERSOLL ./ NEW YORK.,” is adjustable, and came to the collection with the owner’s choice for a lock. It was not uncommon for dogs to be stolen, their identification to be removed, and then be resold on the street as dogs in need of a home. The lock served to discourage would-be thieves.

Dog collar, 1831-1832, American, silver,
4 1/4 inches diameter x 3 /4 inches wide

The inscriptions could sometimes be whimsical and silly.  The one below is from the 1920s or 1930s and reads, “I’M / H.O. SWINFORD’S DOG / WHOSE DOG / ARE YOU?”

Dog collar, 1920s or 1930s, American, leather, 4 inches diameter x
1 3/4 inches wide

The image below shows an Italian collar from the 1940s with distinctly Roman motifs. One crest has an image of Romulus, the founder of Rome, and his twin brother, Remus. The other crest shows the she-wolf that nursed the twins after they were abandoned. Incredibly appropriate motifs to adorn such an object!

Dog collar, 1940s, Italian, leather,
5 1/2 inches diameter x 1 3/4 inches wide

Stay tuned as we continue to learn about these everyday, yet fascinating, objects. We’ll be posting more teasers in preparation for the forthcoming 2022 exhibition.

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. 

This past week Sea Hero, the oldest living winner of the Kentucky Derby died of old age in Turkey.  He was 29 years old.

sea hero kelly
Sea Hero.  Sketch by Lloyd Kelly in his book, Sea Hero 1993.  The gift of Lloyd Kelly, NSLM Rare Books Collection.

Sea Hero was bred in Virginia by Paul Mellon who had a long and successful career in horse racing on both sides of the Atlantic, but had so far been denied a win in the Kentucky Derby.  Sea Hero’s trainer, Mack Miller, was a member of the hall of fame but he too had yet to have a Kentucky Derby winner.  That would change for both men in May 1993.

sea hero
Jockey Jerry Bailey hoisted the trophy with trainer MacKenzie “Mack” Miller, left, and owner Paul Mellon after Sea Hero won the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 1993. ASSOCIATED PRESS.  From the Lexington Herald Leader

Although Sea Hero had put up some excellent performances, his record did not make him a favorite in the run for the roses.  He was 9th in a field of 19 with odds of 12.90-1.  Watch video of the race here.  Late in the race jockey Jerry Bailey makes an exciting move and Sea Hero dashes through a gap on the inside and charges down the rail for the win.  Sea Hero did not manage to repeat his performance in the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes but he had one last flash of glory later that summer, winning the Travers Stakes.  It had been 51 years since a Kentucky Derby winner had done so.  After the 1994 season he was retired to stud with a career record of 6-3-4 in 24 starts and earnings of $2,929,869.

travers
Mack Miller, Paul Mellon, and Sea Hero winning the 1993 Travers Stakes.  Image from the Blood-Horse article on the race in the August 28, 1993 issue.  NSLM periodicals collection.

His stud career began in 1995 at Lane’s End in Versailles, Kentucky, but didn’t fully develop until after he was purchased by the Turkey Jockey Club and relocated to Karacabey Pension Stud in 2000 where he stood at stud until being pensioned out in 2015.  According to Blood-Horse his lifetime progeny earnings worldwide total $19,165,928.

Sea-Hero-at-NSLM
Sea Hero statue in the boxwood garden at NSLM.

Sea Hero has been immortalized in two statues.  One at the Saratoga Race Course, and one right here at the National Sporting Library and Museum, just down the road from Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stables.  Our Sea Hero resides in the boxwood garden between the Museum and Library and is sometimes called upon to assist with educational programming.

tour-am.jpg
Children’s workshop at NSLM.

Here he is surrounded by children learning about proportion.  If you’d like to view our statue or learn more about the Kentucky Derby and the horses and personalities that make it the most glamorous of American horse races, come and visit the Library.


SONY DSCErica 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

Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses—especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.
– Leonardo da Vinci

In popular culture, hard science and art are often perceived as opposites. In reality, however, there is an intimate link between the physical sciences and the creation and perception of an artistic work. An understanding of chemistry, specifically, is able to provide a fascinating twist to artistic appreciation. As an example, the patina of the 19th-century cow weathervane in the National Sporting Library & Museum’s permanent collection is complex and beautiful. A reflection of its age, verdigris is visible where the applied gilt surface has worn away.  One of several weathervanes bequeathed by Paul Mellon, it is currently on view in the exhibition, NSLMology: The Science Sporting Art. The decorative object provides a springboard for discussions about chemistry and art.

American School, 19th century, A Cow, molded copper with cast iron and cast zinc horns, 14 1/4 x 23 inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999

Chemistry as a science deals with the material properties of elements and compounds, and how these things work together. It is sometimes referred to as the “central science” because it bridges and connects the natural sciences. In art, everything from the mixing of paint to casting of sculpture can be described with chemical reactions and terminology.

The molded body of the weathervane was made from a copper alloy which turns greenish-blue when exposed to the elements. Note also that the patina of the metal exposed in the head of the cow is gray. This is because it is made of cast iron with cast-zinc horns. Welded onto the body, the heavier materials create balance for smoother spinning on the weathervane’s axis. Traditionally, gold leaf was not only applied as an aesthetic choice but also as a practical one. Gold is one of the least reactive elements and the most malleable of metals. It can be hammered into extremely thin sheets and retain its ability to be an effective barrier against moisture and exposure to oxygen.

Ferdinand Pautrot (French, 1832–1874), Rooster, Snails, and Pumpkin, after 1860, bronze
6 1/2 x 3 3/4 inches, Gift of the Estate of Milton Ritzenberg, 2018

Metal casting is integral to the NSLM’s bronze collection. From a scientific perspective, this technique provides fodder for an examination of chemical theory. For example, casting encompasses the three states of matter—liquid (molten bronze), gas (released as the bronze is poured and cools), and a solid (resulting sculpture). Also, the cooling of the bronze is an exothermic reaction, involving the release of heat.

Diagram of classic lost wax casting of a bronze, graphic by Jody West

Pigments are another natural platform for discussing chemical principles. Before paint was mass produced, artists often mixed their own paints from naturally occurring elements and minerals. For example, white paint could be made using lead (lead carbonate), white lime (calcium carbonate), or gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate). In 1921, American and Norwegian companies began to develop titanium dioxide, or titanium white, for painting in mass quantities. Knowing this brings a completely different perspective to looking at NSLM’s 17th to 21st century art collection. It begs analysis of how whites compare from one work to another and invites observations about the differences and similarities between them.

Left to right:  Abraham van Calraet (Dutch, 1642–1722), Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape (detail), c. 1690, oil on panel, 19 x 23 1/4 inches, Gift of Mrs. Henry H. Weldon, 2008; Follower of James Ross (British, fl. 1729–1738), A Hare Hunting Scene  (detail), 18th century, oil on canvas, 34 ½  x 54 ½  inches, Gift of Gerald Parsky, 2008; John Bucknell Russell (Scottish, 1820–1893), The Day’s Catch (detail), 1865; oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 29 1/4 inches, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2011; Phoebe Phipps (English/American, ?–1993), The Quail Hunter (detail), 1986, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 1/2 inches, Gift of Mrs. Mimi Abel Smith, 2012

With a clinical eye, scientific principles are easily observed in art. An understanding these ideas can enhance one’s appreciation of a work. Chemistry is just one section in NSLMology on view though September 15, 2019. Weather, Ecology, Motion, and Color Theory are also presented in the same way in the interdisciplinary exhibition to shed a universal light on the understanding and appreciation of sporting art. Please join us in the galleries to explore this new perspective on the collection!


pfeiffer

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 cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

It’s that time of year when things slow down, ever so slightly.  The spring exhibitions are open and there’s a little breathing room before we need to start devoting all of our energy to the fall exhibition.  This is a great time to catch up on the tasks that have accumulated on my desk.  One of the most important responsibilities in Collections is inventorying: to verify locations and assess the condition of all the works of art in all of our collections.  It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? 

The tools: measuring tape, condition report, flashlight, pencil (always a pencil!), dusting cloth, and the ever-present nitrile gloves. (after) Samuel Howitt (English, 1756-1822), Fox Hunting No. 3, hand-colored aquatint, 18 x 22 3/4 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of George and Susan Matelich and Family, 2016

There are two different types of inventory that we utilize: comprehensive and location.  A comprehensive inventory is just that, an inventory of the permanent, study, and loan collections, complete with thorough condition reports and photographs.  Depending on the size of the museum or gallery and staff resources, this should (ideally) be completed annually.  A location inventory has a smaller scope; it verifies that the accession number on the object matches the record, is in the correct location, and if the condition has changed. This is not as time intensive as a comprehensive inventory and should be completed if a comprehensive inventory isn’t possible.  Because of our staff size, we like to alternate annually between the two.

Recall the condition reports from my February 19, 2019 blog entry on the installation of the Sidesaddle exhibition. The inventory process requires that a condition report is filled out for each object and retained in the object folder. Along with the basic information, like title, artist, medium, and date, I also record a brief description of the object, including any defects, like warping of a canvas or scratches on a frame.  Visuals are always helpful when documenting changes.  I try to take as thorough a reference as possible, highlighting any potential issues that should be tracked.

The oldest work of art in our art collection is A Horse in a Landscape, an oil on panel by Abraham van Calreat (c. 1690).  That’s over three centuries of exposure and changing hands and an expansive time frame for it to be dropped, hung above a fireplace, or placed in direct sunlight.  Part of an inventory is to make note of chipped frames and discoloration which are just two possibilities of the previous three scenarios. Despite its age, A Horse in a Landscape is in very good condition.

Works on paper have other potential concerns such as being susceptible to foxing.  Those are the small brownish spots you might see speckled about in old books or prints. The print below has evidence of foxing on the right border. 

Foxing can be seen most noticeably on the right-side border. Edward Troye (American, 1808-1874), Kentucky, 1867, colored engraving, 24 1/2 x 32 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Peter Winants, 2004

Another example of a noteable paper condition issue is seen in the image on the left below of the 1923 wedding invitation of the artist Paul Desmond Brown (American, 1893-1958) to his wife, Harriet.  The discoloration is easily noticed.  What would have caused this?  Perhaps it was displayed in a frame where, over time, the light caused it to change. 

Invitation to the wedding of Paul Desmond Brown to Harriet Smith, November 12, 1923, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Nancy Searles, the artist’s daughter, 2011

The backside of the paper below has several issues including discoloration, missing elements, accretions, tears, buckling, and flaking.

Verso of paper with envelope affixed to the front, addressed to Harriet Smith, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Nancy Searles, the artist’s daughter, 2011

A comprehensive inventory also serves another purpose. Do the works of art under scrutiny still meet the mission of the organization?  As museums and galleries evolve, their mission statements and policies may need to evolve too.  This could include adjusting the scope of the collection plan, meaning that objects in the collection may be better suited for interpretation at a different institution.  If that is the case, further evaluation is warranted.

An inventory can be a long process, but it serves an important purpose; it is one of the principal aspects of Collections Management.  For now, if you need me, I’ll be in storage, listening to big band music, and plugging away at this year’s inventory.

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