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

We have over 1,300 objects in the museum collection at the National Sporting Library & Museum.  Those objects can be broken down into three categories of collections: permanent, study, and loan collections.  Regardless of which collection an object belongs to, the motto is the same: we treat all objects with the same care and attention.

The objects in the permanent collection have been donated or bequeathed to the NSLM or purchased by the NSLM.  An example of this would be The Start of the Derby (1845) by John Herring Sr. (English, 1795-1865), generously bequeathed to the museum in 2017.  This is a wonderful painting by a popular British sporting artist and represents an ordinary moment in a unique style and tradition all his own.  The Start of the Derby will be part of the upcoming NSLMology: The Science of Sporting Art exhibition, opening Friday, April 12.

John Frederick Herring, Sr (English, 1795-1865) The Start of the Derby, 1845
oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017

The study collection is comprised of objects that are primarily used for research purposes.  For instance, in NSLMology, we are including a bronze of a Mare and Foal, which visitors will be encouraged to touch.  Wait. Why is this allowed when every sign in the museum says Do Not Touch?  Because in this instance, the bronze is a 20th-century casting.  This does not make it less valuable, it is simply a later model, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with it.

Pierre-Jules Mêne (French, 1810-1879), Jument Arabe et son Paulain (An Arab Mare and Foal),
model 1850; cast early 20th century, bronze with detached wooden base, 12 x 19 1/2 x 9 1/4 inches, Gift of the Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Atkinson, 2014

Our last collection is our loan collection.  In addition to the rare private lender, institutions frequently loan to and from one another and we are no exception.  Two popular bronze sculptures on display are from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond: Pointer Guarding Dead Game (1850) and Setter, Pointer, & Partridge (1848) by Pierre-Jules Mêne (French, 1810-1879). 

Pierre-Jules Mêne (French, 1810-1879), Setter, Pointer, and Partridge, 1850, bronze, 9 x 16 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of Forrest E. Mars, 69.29.2

Since we want to make sure different works of art are seen, and to allow the art to rest, we frequently rotate art from the different collections between being on-view and in storage. 

To keep track of our different collections, each one has a different numbering system.  Using the above objects as examples, the accession number for The Start of the Derby is 2017.3.1.  This means the painting was acquired in 2017.  It was the third acquisition that year, and it was the first object of that bequest.  We also received several other paintings within the bequest, therefore, those additional works received the subsequent numbers: 2017.3.2, 2017.3.3, etc. 

The objects in the study collection have an “S” in front of their number.  The accession number for Mare and Foal is S2014.13.1.  It was the thirteenth study object received in 2014 and the only object in that donation. Likewise, the VMFA bronzes on loan are numbered L2007.31.5-6.

This is by no means a universal numbering system.  Each museum is different.  Larger institutions may have different numbering systems within different departments.  Each work of art has a tag so we can track it whenever it is moved around the museum.  The accession number on the art corresponds to our digital cataloging system that records any location moves and stores all pertinent information relating to that specific object. That, though, is a post for another day…

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