On September 17, 1937, a new newspaper launched in Middleburg, Virginia. Called The Middleburg Chronicle, it would one day be re-named The Chronicle of the Horse and become one of the most popular sporting periodicals of the 20th Century.
The paper was founded by Stacy Lloyd and Gerald Webb, who served as publisher/editor and managing editor, respectively. The front page of the new paper contained a sad but significant piece of horse racing news:
John T. “Jack” Skinner was a steeplechase trainer and jockey in Middleburg, and had trained Welbourne Jake into a winner. The horse won the 1937 Maryland Hunt Cup, one of the most prestigious steeplechase races in North America.
Skinner was initially slated to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup, but was sidelined when a fall broke his collarbone. Instead, a young college student named John Harrison rode to victory.
It’s impossible to say what Welbourne Jake’s career might have been if not for his unfortunate accident. But for one day, the connection between Paul Mellon, Marion duPont Scott, Jack Skinner and the Maryland Hunt Cup were immortalized on the first front page of The Chronicle.
John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. 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 John by e-mail
The changing exhibitions displayed in the Museum give us the opportunity to see works of art in a new light. We can reunite works that have long been separated in different collections, or juxtapose objects which are not normally displayed with each other, or gather together multiple works by the same artist.
The more time you spend looking at works of art by the same artist, the more you begin to recognize that artist’s style, or “hand,” as art historians often like to say. This portrait by Benjamin Marshall, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection, shows a gentleman named Thomas Willan on his hunt horse. Willan owned a large farm in Marylebone Park, which is located in the present day area of Regent’s Park, London. His gothic-style manor house and gardens were known as Twyford Abbey. While the man and his horse are painted in glossy detail, the thinly-painted background is hazy and indistinct. There is a glimpse of fence line and gate on the viewer’s right and the hint of a waterway on the left. If the manor house is there, it is lost in the muted tones of the loosely painted landscape.
Other works by Marshall now on view in A Sporting Vision show a similar treatment of background and subject. In the portrait of Noble, a Hunter Well Known in Kent (where the horse is actually the “sitter”), the landscape is made up of loose brush strokes, with lots of sky and indistinct features. Hounds and huntstaff are shown faintly in the background.
We see it again in Colonel Henry Campbell Shooting on a Moor. The more you look at Marshall’s works, the more you can recognize similarities in the way he paints his figures as well.
Works on view by John Ferneley, Sr., and Francis Grant are connected as well. Ferneley briefly tutored the younger artist and the two collaborated on The Hunt in Belvoir Vale, which is part of the NSLM permanent collection. This mural-sized group portrait from the mid-1830s shows gentlemen foxhunting near the town of Melton Mowbray, highly popular foxhunting territory outside of London. Thirteen of the riders in the foreground are identified portraits, including Grant at the far left side. The painting was commissioned by the Earl of Wilton (1799-1882), who is pictured leading the group.
The Sporting Vision exhibition includes several works by Ferneley and one by Grant.
The Melton Hunt Going to Draw the Ram’s Head Cover was painted by Grant a few years after the NSLM painting. This group portrait features 36 identified figures riding with the Quorn Hunt, also in the Melton Mowbray area. The Earl of Wilton appears here as well, at center in the long grey coat, along with members of his family. The Countess of Wilton and her son Lord Grey de Wilton ride in the phaeton (a light-weight, four wheeled carriage) pulled by two palomino colored ponies. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839. Grant went on to a successful painting career and was President of the Royal Academy from 1866 to 1878.
When you are here at the Museum next, I hope you enjoy taking time to compare and contrast the wonderful highlights of British sporting art that are currently on view.
Since 1939, the Piedmont Foxhounds have hosted the Piedmont Point-to-Point races in Upperville, Virginia. The most prestigious race of the meet is the Rokeby Challenge Bowl, which, for decades, has attracted top horses in training for major steeplechase races. From 1939 until his death in 1999, the race and trophy were sponsored by Mr. Paul Mellon, who was a member of Piedmont and an avid supporter of jump racing. The winner of the race received a small trophy to keep and their names were engraved on a large perpetual trophy which they could keep for one year. Those who won the race three times (not necessarily consecutively or with the same horse) retired the trophy and could take it home for keeps. The trophies provided by Mr. Mellon were exquisite examples of silver and were highly sought after prizes.
One of the original silver Rokeby Bowl trophies has been generously donated to the NSLM by Mary Gillian “Gill” Fenwick. Mrs. Fenwick retired the Rokeby Bowl after winning the race three consecutive years, in 1961, 1962, and 1963. She was just the third owner to retire the trophy (five more have done so since then). Her winners were piloted by the famous steeplechase jockey Crompton “Tommy” Smith, Jr., all three years. The horses were Bay Barrage (1961), General Tony (1962), and Fluctuate (1963).
All three were talented racers. After winning in 1961, Bay Barrage ran again in 1962 with Olympic equestrian Frank Chapot on board. He placed third against his stablemate General Tony. Past Maryland Hunt Cup winner Fluctuate, nicknamed “Chris,” won in 1963 when he was 16 years-young and was rewarded with well-earned retirement.
The original course was on Mellon’s Rokeby Farm property in Upperville. The race was 4 1/4 miles long, included 22 post and rail fences averaging 3’9″ high, and included two in-and-outs! In 1957, the point-to-point was relocated to the farms of Mrs. J. F. F. Stewart and Dr. and Mrs. A. C. Randolph along Route 50 in Upperville, now known as the Salem Farm course.
The trophy itself has more stories to tell. The bowl is almost 300 years old, dating to the year 1720. The plain silver punch bowl is hand-engraved with an image of a horse and jockey and inscribed with the words “Silver Tail’d Betty” and “Banbury Town Plate 1720.” Town Plates (flat race meetings) were held in towns all over England for centuries. Prior to the establishment of the Jockey Club in the early 1750’s, each meet featured its own set of rules. The town of Banbury is located in Oxfordshire, in Southern England.
After Mr. Mellon acquired the bowl, he added a tiered wooden base with sterling silver bands and donated it to Piedmont for the race. The NSLM is grateful to Mrs. Fenwick for gifting this special piece of racing history to the collection. It has traveled a long way since it was first used as a race trophy in 18th century England, then awarded at steeplechase races in 20th century America, and now has a home on display at the NSLM.
The 76th running of the Piedmont Point-to-Point takes place Saturday, March 25th at the Salem Farm course in Upperville, Virginia. For a schedule of all the Spring Steeplechase races, visit the Virginia Steeplechase Association calendar.
Twenty-two years ago, longshot Thoroughbred Sea Hero gave owner Paul Mellon (1907-1999) his first Kentucky Derby victory. It was also the first Derby win for jockey Jerry Bailey and trainer MacKenzie Miller. With the victory, Mellon became the only owner to ever win the Kentucky Derby, the Epsom Derby, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Sea Hero went on to win the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga. He was retired to stud at age four. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living winner of the Kentucky Derby.
Paul Mellon commissioned British sculptor Tessa Pullan to create a beautiful, three-quarter size bronze of the horse in 1995. Pullan is the same sculptor who created the Civil War Horse at the entrance to the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) campus. The sculpture of Sea Hero came to NSLM in October 2014 via the bequest of Mr. Mellon. It stands atop an impressive stone base, weighs over two tons and measures eight feet tall. Now installed in the NSLM boxwood garden, Sea Hero has recently been cleaned and treated by conservator Andrew Baxter.
There are only two weeks left until Hero in the Homestretch: The Sea Hero Symposium on Saturday, May 30th! We invite you to join us for a day of presentations on the art and conservation, the transport and installation, and the horse that was the inspiration for the newest sculpture at the NSLM. This event will delve into the science of fine art conservation, in particular Andrew Baxter’s years caring for a variety of Mr. Mellon’s sculptures. Benjamin Gage will discuss the challenges of moving large-scale sculptures, and racing historian Ed Bowen will detail the history and legacy of Sea Hero and Mellon’s Rokeby Stables.
Last week, fine art conservator Andrew Baxter was here on site to treat our bronze sculpture of Sea Hero. Andrew specializes in sculpture conservation and has worked on metal and stone art objects at major institutions like the National Gallery of Art, the White House, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (and the NSLM!). He will be presenting at our upcoming program Hero in the Homestretch: The Sea Hero Symposium on May 30th. Here is a sneak peak at some of the trade secrets he will be sharing in his presentation.
The amazing thing about conservation is, it’s about artandscience! This is one of the few times you will see this art historian get excited about math and chemistry!
So how do you go from this:
Not surprisingly, conserving an outdoor sculpture starts with the basics – getting it clean.
One of the many fun facts I learned last week: Orvus is a shampoo that many horse people are familiar with for cleaning up their equine friends. This same shampoo used to be widely utilized (and is still sometimes used) on bronze sculptures because of it’s non-corrosive nature. Andrew used a similar cleaning agent.
Next comes some more chemistry. The sculpture is treated with a solution which helps slow corrosion. Bronze metal is actually a combination of copper and tin. As most of us have seen, copper wants to turn green when it is out in the elements. While sometimes those green tints and weathered appearance can look beautiful, for bronze they are actually evidence of corrosion (think rust) which ultimately shortens the lifespan of the metal.
Our conservator then carefully applied layers of pigmented wax to protect the bronze and enhance the dark bay (brown-black) patina of the sculpture. Lots of polishing – and a perfectly warm and sunny day – resulted in the gleaming horse you see now in the boxwood garden.
If you want to learn more about how to care for sculptures, and see great images of some of the other beautiful pieces Andrew has worked on, don’t miss his presentation at the symposium! He’ll also be sharing some wonderful stories of his time working for the great philanthropist and art collector Paul Mellon. Also presenting will be Ben Gage – an expert sculpture handler who has installed some amazing large scale artwork. (He is also one of the most enthusiastic art professionals you will ever meet!) And if you’re curious to learn more about the celebrity model for our bronze, racing historian and author Ed Bowen will be speaking about Mellon’s Rokeby Stables and Sea Hero the horse. Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is currently living a life of luxury in Turkey. His 1993 Derby win was the first for owner Paul Mellon, trainer Mackenzie Miller and jockey Jerry Bailey.
Come join us to learn more about them all on May 30th! To read more and register, click here or call us: (540) 687-6542 x. 25
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Thursday - 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
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“Drawing Covert,” refers to the practice in foxhunting of putting hounds in a covert (pronounced like “cover”), a thicket or wooded brush area, to find the fox.
This blog is about the exhibitions, tours, research, programs, and events, at NSLM on its unique collection of books, archives, paintings, sculpture and much more.