How do museums care for art collections?

In the 1983 film “Sesame Street at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Cookie Monster has to resist eating delicious looking pictures. [Image:] (c) Sesame Workshop
Museum professionals work hard behind-the-scenes to make sure unique collections and cultural heritage survives for future generations to enjoy. The ways in which we store, handle, and light art objects are key to preventing damage and slowing deterioration over time. The professional term is preventative conservation, and it is the unsung hero of museum collections care.

You may have noticed that most museums are extremely vigilant about preventing visitors from touching the artwork.

Dirt and oils from hands can add up to damage over time. Cracking in painted surfaces is inevitable, as the different natural and man-made materials that make up canvas and paint expand and contract over time. But, pressure – from a hand or pointing finger, for instance – can result in extensive cracks that may not show up until later.

Details from: John Frederick Herring, Sr., The Start of the Derby, 1845, oil on canvas, 28 x 48 inches, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017
Concentric circles or bullseye cracks can develop from pressure (like a finger poke) that has been applied to a painting canvas.

And a careless gesture too close to a painting could result in more immediate (and very expensive) damage – like this $40-million Dollar Elbow.

Physical damage can also be caused by the environment. If you have ever hung a photograph in your home where it is hit by direct sunlight, you may have made the sad discovery that your picture has started to fade away. Works on paper – such as pencil, ink, watercolor, and especially photographs – are particularly sensitive to light damage. In the museum we monitor light levels carefully and use window coverings to filter out harmful UV light from the outside.

Routine cleaning and treatments also help prevent damage. We enlist professional conservators to combine science and chemistry with art to do so.

Sculpture conservator Andrew Baxter prepares wax to protect the bronze sculpture of a filly, Darn That Itch by Jean Clagett, on the NSLM campus.
Tools of the trade: The sculpture conservator uses wax tinted with different types of pigments to create a protective layer over the bronze.
A pre-treatment photo of the NSLM’s Sea Hero statue. Note the greenish hue, particularly on the base.
After annual cleaning and re-waxing, the green discoloration is gone and rain water beads and pools on the base of the bronze.

To learn more about the treatment of outdoor bronze sculptures and our Sea Hero statue, read this past blog post, Bath Time for Bronze Horses.

When damage does occur, whether naturally or by accident, conservators also help us repair and restore works of art. A large, four-paneled, 18th century sporting screen in the permanent collection is currently undergoing treatment by a conservator. In the photos below, you can see the progress so far. The left photo was taken before any cleaning or treatment. The right photo was taken during the treatment process after yellowed varnish and old discolored repairs have been removed. The bright white areas are filled-in repairs that will eventually be repainted.

Details from: (after) James Seymour, Four-paneled Sporting Screen, mid-18th/19th century, hand-colored engravings mounted on canvas, and oil on canvas mounted on a wooden frame, each panel 81 ½ x 27 inches, Bequest of Sonia Phipps Seherr-Thoss, 2006
On the left, photos taken before treatment show cloudy, yellowed varnish and old, discolored past repairs. On the right, photos taken during treatment show brighter colors and details. The areas of bright white are newly made repairs to old damage.

Once cleaning is complete and all repairs have been finished, the screen will be re-coated with a thin layer of protective varnish and can then be put back on view in the galleries.

It takes consistent care to keep these objects looking their best. If you want to help support the ongoing conservation efforts here at the NSLM, please consider making a donation!


This Saturday, September 9, our newest exhibition opens at the Museum, and visitors will get to come face-to-face with 2,500-year-old horses.

Attributed to the Workshop of Gorgon Painter, (Greek, Attic), Horse-head Amphora, ca. 580-570 BCE, terracotta, 10 3/8 inches high, Private Collection. Each side of this amphora features a portrait of a horse with halter and flowing mane.

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is an exciting new show that features painted vases, small sculpture, and silver coins, all from the 8th thru 4th centuries BCE. These objects are beautiful treasures that, amazingly, have survived over two and a half millennia. Every art object has a story to tell and a history to share – but these objects have a particularly long history! In addition to being spectacular archaeological finds, these works of art tell us all about equestrian life of the ancient Greek world.

Attributed to the Orestes Painter, Greek (Attic), Red-figure Column Krater, ca. 440 BCE, Side A: Jockeys racing around column, terracotta,16 1/4 inches high, 14 3/8 inches wide, Private Collection. Ancient jockeys, who rode nude, raced their horses on long oval tracks with a sharp turn at each end.

In ancient Greece, horses represented nobility, strength, and beauty. Horses appear throughout Greek art and literature, play important roles in mythology and legend (some of the most popular examples include the Trojan Horse and Pegasos – spelled Pegasus in Latin), and were a key part of ancient society and culture. The Greeks loved athletics and competition, and equestrian sports became some of the most prestigious events at the Olympics and other types of games.

Euainetos of Syracuse, Sicily, Dekadrachum, ca. 405-400 BCE, silver, 1 3/8 inches diameter, Private Collection, Washington, DC. This coin (equaling 10 drachmas) features an impressive relief of a quadriga, or four-horse chariot, with Nike, Goddess of Victory, flying overhead.

The Greek historian, author, and cavalry officer named Xenophon (ca. 430-354 BCE), wrote treatises on horse care and training. The concepts shared in his manuals on horsemanship and riding basically formed the foundation for modern equitation, and his writings have been referenced and translated over many centuries.

Villanovan or Early Etruscan (Italy), Horse bit, ca. 800-700 BCE, bronze,3 3/4 x 6 x 5 inches, Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University (Photo: Kevin Montague). This ancient bit is a simple snaffle (a single jointed, mild type of bit) with decorative cheek pieces in the shape of a mare and foal.

Many of the objects in the show are vases, or vessels, featuring beautifully detailed decoration and paintings. Most were originally meant to be functional – as drinking cups, pitchers, or storage containers for wine or oil. Now they are displayed so the artwork on all sides – top, bottom, inside, and outside – can be seen and enjoyed.

NSLM partnered with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond for this project. After the exhibition closes here in January, it will travel on to the second venue there. We are thrilled to be able to share so many works on loan from important collections for this show, including: the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Tampa Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum, the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and private collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Fordham University , and the American Numismatic Society are also lending works that will be shown at the VMFA venue.

We are also excited to present the catalog that goes with this exhibition. It features essays by major scholars of ancient art and archaeology and explores the significance of the horse in the ancient Greek world. To learn more about the exhibition, the catalog, or all the great programming we have lined up, visit here.

The Horse in Ancient Greek Art is organized by the National Sporting Library & Museum and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It will be on view at NSLM, September 9, 2017 – January 14, 2018.



I recently spent some time in Berlin visiting several amazing museums. The collections in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (State Museums of Berlin) are incredible – from major examples of ancient art to fabulous modern and contemporary pieces. During my travels, I encountered quite a few works that reminded me of Middleburg and the NSLM. Here are just a few:

The Old National Gallery in Berlin primarily features German artists – some familiar and some lesser known.

Wilhelm Trubner (German, 1851-1917), Equestrian Portrait of Ida Gorz, 1900/1902, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Acquired 1921

My poor quality photo doesn’t do this painting justice – it is quite a striking portrait.

Adolph Menzel (German, 1815-1905), Horse study, 1848, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Acquired 1906


Carl Steffeck (German, 1818-1890), Fox in its Burrow, 1842, oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Old National Gallery), Purchase of Ernst Zaeslein, Grunewald, 1911

With the upcoming show The Horse in Ancient Greek Art on my mind, mythological horses keep popping up everywhere.

Hippocamp (half-horse, half-sea serpent creatures) details on the Friedrichstrausse bridge, over the Spree River, Berlin.


Attic (Athens), Greece, Votive Relief for a Chariot Victory, 400–390 BCE, marble, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Altes Museum), Acquired 1884. Caption reads: “The nude warrior wearing a helmet next to the bearded charioteer is about to jump off the speeding chariot to continue the race on foot.”


The German History Museum has a massive collection of almost 1 million objects, spanning the history of Germany from the Middle Ages to the late-20th century.

Gothic Field Armour, c. 1470, iron, German History Museum


This 15th century set of battle armor is made of iron. The caption explained that it was so heavy – for both horse and rider – that the knights and their steeds could only fight for a very short amount of time before being overcome by exhaustion. (At least this rider has his heels down).

Sidesaddle, c. 1700, leather, silk, velvet, German History Museum

This early-18th century ladies sidesaddle with velvet cushioning looked like it would be very comfortable.

Hare Hunting und Bird Hunting, 2nd half of the 18th century, oil on canvas, German History Museum

This pair of 18th century sporting scenes show hare hunting and bird hunting with hounds. I thought it was interesting that the hunter in the second scene is mounted on a paint (it almost looks like an appaloosa) horse. Hunting was a large part of social life for royal and noble families of German speaking territories throughout the 16th to 19th centuries. Coursing was adopted by German princes (from the French) around the end of the 17th century.

On a day trip to Hamburg, I discovered the Museum of Arts and Crafts. This fabulous suit is an “Original/Interpretation” piece in the exhibition Sports/No Sports, which explores the correlation between fashion and sportswear.

Foxhunting Ensemble, Museum of Arts and Crafts, Hamburg

The Museum of Fine Arts in Hamburg also has an impressive collection, including this Renoir (with it’s very Renoir-esque figures).

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919), Riding in the Bois de Boulogne, 1873, oil on canvas, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Acquired 1913


This is just a tiny selection of all the wonderful art there is to see in Germany. It was fun to explore new museums and collections and discover pieces that remind me of the art here at home.

This coming Saturday is a big day in the horse racing world! You don’t need us to tell you that May 6 is the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The Virginia Gold Cup is also this Saturday, just down the road from us at Great Meadow in The Plains.

There are so many amazing horses, talented people, spectacular stories, and fun facts associated with both of these big events – we could never share them all. Here are just a few stories about some of the four-legged stars connected with the collections here at the NSLM.

Sea Hero
This long-shot bay colt won the Derby in 1993. Today, Sea Hero is the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner and is enjoying a life of retirement standing at stud in Turkey.

Sea Hero
Tessa Pullan (English, b. 1953), Sea Hero, 1995, bronze, on stone base, 88 x 29 ½ x 96 inches, including base, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999, Acquired 2014 [(c) Tessa Pullan]
One of the very few grey horses to win the Derby (only eight have ever done so), Determine won in 1954 – the same year the National Sporting Library was founded.

Man O’War
One of the most famous names in American horse racing never actually ran in the Kentucky Derby, but his progeny went on to win quite a few. The chestnut stallion’s offspring included 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral, and he is found in the bloodlines of most top thoroughbreds, all the way up to American Pharaoh (2015) and Nyquist (2016). Another son was steeplechaser Battleship, the first American horse to win the English Grand National Steeplechase in 1938.

Marilyn Newmark (American, 1928-2013), Man O’War, 1977, bronze, 10 ½ x 14 ¾ x 3 ½ inches, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2016.  Newmark, who is known primarily for her equestrian sculpture, created this posthumous portrait after referencing the many photographs documenting the champion thoroughbred.

Gallant Fox
Gallant Fox was the second horse to ever win the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont races (1930), and the first to be referred to as a “Triple Crown” winner by the press. Gallant Fox: A Memoir, written in 1931 by the horse’s owner, William Woodward, Sr., is one of the scarcest books ever printed by the Derrydale Press. The copy in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room here at the NSLM is numbered one of fifty (but the whereabouts of only five copies are currently recorded).

The Celebrated Horse Lexington, by Boston, out of Alice Carneal, and Churchill Downs, Derby Day, c. 1946, Published by Currier & Ives, Gift of Mrs. Parker Poe, 1978

Lexington never ran in the Derby either. In fact, he died in 1875, the first year the Kentucky Derby was run. But Lexington was the leading sire in America for decades. This print in the NSLM collection features a portrait of Lexington after Louis Maurer (German/American, 1832-1932). The portrait is surrounded by images of the first 71 Derby winners – from Aristides (1875), up through Hoop Jr. (1945).

You can see a portrait of the 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, along with Derby winners Smarty Jones (2004), Barbaro (2006), and many other gorgeous thoroughbreds in our newest exhibition Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light.

Andre Pater (Polish/American, b. 1953), Secretariat, 2004, pastel on board, 20 x 24 inches, Private Collection [(c) Andre Pater]

Happy Race Day!

In 1933, a stunning new art exhibition opened at The Field Museum in Chicago. Brought together by none other than Marshall Field, the exhibition was an exclusive selection of 19 sculptures by Herbert Haseltine from his series British Champion Animals.

“Portrait of Herbert Haseltine by Sir William Orpen, R. A.” frontispiece of Herbert Haseltine: An Exhibition of Sculpture of British Champion Animals, 1933. National Sporting Library & Museum.

Haseltine (1877-1962) was the son of a painter, and was born in Rome (then in the independent state of Lazio). He reputedly took an interest in horses at 12 years old when Buffalo Bill‘s “Wild West” show visited Italy to perform. Haseltine studied in various parts of Europe before settling in Paris (where he lived a great deal of his life).

Herbert Haseltine (American, 1877 – 1962) Polo Pony: Perfection, 1930 bronze, 10 x 12 ½ x 4 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars. A selection of Haseltine’s series, British Champion Animals was exhibited at the Field Museum in 1933. Haseltine sent a copy of the exhibition catalog to artist Paul Brown.

The 1933 exhibition presented an opportunity for American artist Paul Brown to reach out to Haseltine. Because of careful retention of the paper record, a view of the relationship between both artists is in the NSLM collection.

Brown forwarded Haseltine a book of his artwork, and Haseltine returned the favor. The exhibition catalog for British Champion Animals is inscribed “To Paul Brown from his admirer, Herbert Haseltine.” National Sporting Library & Museum.

Brown (1893-1958) was a hugely popular equestrian artist in his own right. He took advantage of Haseltine’s visit to the United States to forward a book featuring his artwork, and received back an exhibition catalog for British Champion Animals, and a letter. The letter shows that Haseltine was eager to “talk shop.”

“I enjoyed looking at the horses. They are beautifully drawn and terribly alive.”
“There is also a certain sameness about the mens [sic] faces.”
“But you have a wonderful foundation for sculpture or painting. I saw your portrait of a horse of Scribners — a little too much detail — if you don’t mind my saying so. Also some of the horses’ ears a little rabbityfied at the points.”

Haseltine can’t keep himself from technical critique, but he tries to lighten the mood, too.

“Please forgive all this HOT AIR.”

Below is a full transcription:

19th February, 1933

Dear Paul Brown,

Thank you a thousand times for the book – I enjoyed looking at the horses. They are beautifully drawn and terribly alive. Do you mind if I say something?

In the grouping – I would think of the composition in such a way that you couldn’t take anything out of it – without it’s being ruined. If it isn’t ruined, well it would be just as well without it. It all ought to hang together and make one. There is also a certain sameness about the mens faces.

But you have a wonderful foundation for sculpture or painting. I saw your portrait of a horse of Scribners — a little too much detail — if you don’t mind my saying so. Also some of the horses’ ears a little rabbityfied at the points. Look at a horse’s ears, especially a well bred one and you will see what I mean.

Please forgive all this HOT AIR. I hope we shall meet soon again.


Herbert Haseltine

We don’t know what Brown thought about the letter, but he prized it enough to keep it, and the exhibition catalog. Both were donated to NSLM by Brown’s daughter, Nancy Brown Searles in 2011 and are now part of our manuscripts collection.

Long after the Field Museum exhibition, three smaller casts of Haseltine’s sculptures are in the permanent collection at NSLM. They’re often on view in the Permanent Collection exhibition, so plan your visit to see them in person soon!

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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

I’ve been exploring the Library’s photograph collection over the past few weeks, and there’s a wealth of material in that collection, and I found the following photo there:

"Presentation to HSF, Timonium Fair, 1948" Photograph Collection, National Sporting Library & Museum
“Presentation to HSF, Timonium Fair, 1948” Photograph Collection, National Sporting Library & Museum

The caption struck me as mysterious, but what intrigued me most was the ceramic sculpture. It looked awfully familiar. It’s the very same one that’s currently in our Executive Director’s office.

Ceramic Draft Horse Sculpture, Inscribed "H. S. Finney From Maryland Draft Horse Breeders Association"
Percheron, Edward Marshall Boehm, 1948. Inscription: “H. S. Finney From Maryland Draft Horse Breeders Association”

I needed some answers, and fortunately for me, NSLM Summer Intern Nicole Corbin did a wonderful job researching the sculpture. It was sculpted by Edward Marshall Boehm, a native of Maryland, who is best known for his sculptures of birds. His work can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the White House, as well as being in the collection of Queen Elizabeth II. The only other known Pecheron Work Horse sculpture by Boehm is in the collection at the Met.

Percheron Stallion, Edward Marshall Boehm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Percheron Stallion, Edward Marshall Boehm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Some of you may have already recognized Humphrey S. Finney (1903-1984) in the photograph. His glasses, bow tie and hair parted in the middle gave him a distinctive look! He was best known in the horse world as president, then chairman of Fasig-Tipton, the prominent horse auctioning firm. Something a little less well-known was his long relationship with draft horses.

In recognition for his annually sponsoring the draft horse classes at the Maryland State Fair, the Maryland Draft Horse Breeders Association presented Finney with this ceramic sculpture at the 1948 fair at the Timonium Fairgrounds. The sculpture was donated to the National Sporting Library by Finney’s daughter, Marge Dance, in 1995.

Cover art from "The Thirty-Eight Annual Testimonial Dinner of the Thoroughbred Club of America in Honor of Mr. Humphrey S. Finney" 1969.
Cover art from “The Thirty-Eight Annual Testimonial Dinner of the Thoroughbred Club of America in Honor of Mr. Humphrey S. Finney” 1969.

Finney was born in England and came to the United States at 21 to work with horses. His first job was in Michigan, exhibiting draft horses. He moved on to Ohio to work conditioning hunters and polo ponies before breaking into the Thoroughbred industry. Finney was elected to the board of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association in the 1930s, and at the Association’s suggestion, he founded and edited The Maryland Horse magazine in 1936. His autobiography, Fair Exchange: Recollections of a Life With Horses (1974)is in the Library Collections and can be accessed in the Library’s Main Reading Room at NSLM.


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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.

Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze sculpture of Sea Hero at the NSLM.
Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze sculpture of Sea Hero at the NSLM.

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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.

Sculpture expert Benjamin Gage and his team lower Sea Hero into place at NSLM.
Sculpture expert Benjamin Gage and his team lower Sea Hero into place at NSLM.

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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.

Sea Hero after conservation.
Sea Hero after conservation.

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