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]
Determine
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
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).

Secretariat
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!

Advertisements

Most people are unaware of just how unusual the NSLM Library collections are. Most libraries set an acquisition plan and purchase their materials to fill the collection. However, almost everything at NSLM was donated by members of the sporting community, making it a unique communal reflection. We receive thousands of donated books every year, many are rare or antiquarian books.

Sadly, some donated books come to us in a very “well loved” condition. It’s impossible to make these damaged books available to the researchers that visit us. Further, it’s often prohibitively expensive to outright replace the book.

img_6707
Sporting Almanac, 1839 (B018). Adopt for $150.

This week, we launched our first-ever Book Adoption Program. We’re asking the public for assistance in restoring these books to a safe and usable condition, preserving their contents for future research.

plate
All adoptions will be commemorated with a special plate in the restored book. It’s an excellent way to honor friends and family for the holidays.

I’m excited by the response we’ve had to the program so far. With thousands of research visits every year, it’s critical for us to keep our books in a usable condition. So many of our titles are out of print, and for some of them, their contents are at risk of being lost for good. It’s intimidating (but true) that our donors and members often are all that stand between preservation or loss.

img_6709
Racing Calendars: 1866-1867 (B017). Adopt for $275.

What goes into book restoration? It all depends on what’s ailing the book. In many cases, our adoptable books are suffering from disintegrating spines, deteriorating paper or leather covers, detached boards, or weak hinges.

img_6723
Victorian Photo Album, .c 1890 (B003). Adopt for $300.

Each adoption covers the work of a qualified restoration professional to repair the damage.

img_6725

The Thoroughbred Horse, 1867 (B010). Adopt for $150.

We started with 18 books for adoption, and 13 were adopted in the first two days! The five books pictured in this blog post are still available for adoption.

img_6731
Ouvres de F. Baucher, 1867 (B013). Adopt for $275.

In the future we’ll have another blog post to cover the restoration work on some of our adopted books. If you are interested in learning more, you can get in touch or view our program catalog.


 

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

When somebody asks me a library question and the initial answer is “I don’t know,” I usually end up learning a whole lot about something. That was true a short time back when somebody contacted me about a horse named Argyle, and his connection to a Supreme Court Justice named Gabriel Duvall. All we knew was Argyle was foaled around 1830 at Duvall’s farm, Marietta.

Looking for broad background information on the horse, Google gave a clue in an entry of The American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine of July 1834:

argyle1

A good start. A useful tool is the All Breed Database, and some simple searching found Argyle’s listing.Argyle’s dam, Thistle, could trace a bloodline through Florizel back to the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian, two founding sires of the Thoroughbred breed. On his sire’s side, Argyle’s ancestry also goes back to the Godolphin Arabian.

cropped to image, frame obscured, recto
Daniel Quigley (Irish, 18th Century) The Godolphin Arabian, late 18th Century, oil on canvas, 38 x 48 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. On view at NSLM until March 26, 2017 in The Chronicle of the Horse in Art.

What made Argyle famous? A more comprehensive check of the Turf Register shows a slew of impressive victories in the American south in 1834 and 1835 (putting Argyle at about four years old). Here is one entry, from April 1835:

Charleston (S.C.) Races. The annual races over the Washington course, commenced on Monday Feb. 9 for the citizen’s purse, of $1000; three mile heats and resulted as follows:

Mr. Walden’s br. c. Argyle, four years old, by Monsieur Tonson, dam Thistle, by Oscar, 102 lbs. 1 1
Mr. Haun’s b. m. Rattlesnake, five years old, by Bertrand, dam Devil, by West Paragon, 109 lbs. 2 2
Mr. Montmollin’s br. m. Alborak, five years old, by Sumter, dam Mary Bedford, by imp. Bedford, 109 lbs. 3 3
Col. Fitzsimmons’ ch. f. Rushlight, four years old, by Sir Archy, dam by Pacolet, 99 lbs.

Time, 5 m. 46 s.–5 m. 51 s.


Fourth day,
four mile heats, purse $1000.

Mr. Walden’s br. c. Argyle, four years old, by Monsieur Tonson, dam Thistle, by Oscar, 102 lbs. 1 1
Col. Spann’s ch. h. Bertrand, Jr. aged, by Bertrand, dam Transport, by Virginius, 126 lbs. 2 2

Time, 8 m. 5 s.–8 m. 8 s.

Two wins, three days apart! Argyle tore through his southern competition (usually in the Carolinas and Georgia), and it appears to have ruffled a few feathers that a “northern” horse should dominate. But more on that presently. For now, the main concern was unraveling the mystery of ownership. In April 1834, P. M. Butler is listed as the owner of Argyle, before rotating to J. McLean, then George Walden. Oddly, in the same issue (April 1835) Walden is listed as the owner for the racing calendar, and P. M. Butler took out an ad responding for Argyle to a challenge by a horse named Shark, sired by American Eclipse.

apr1835
Fighting words! P. M. Butler’s advertisement, responding to a challenge of Argyle by Shark, referred to as a “water ‘varment’.” This is likely a less-than-tactful boast about defeating a horse named Rattlesnake at the Charleston Races.

Interesting to note that at this point Argyle was both racing and covering mares at stud for a subscription fee.

By November of 1835, Argyle was considered one of the best horses in the United States. An article appeared in the Turf Register praising Argyle, only to be forcefully contested the following month.

nov1835-a
Exultant praise for Argyle from a writer named “Observer.” November 1835 issue of the American Turf Register.
dec1835
A scathing rebuttal the following month. The writer “Truth” points out the perceived weakness in Argyle’s pedigree. Regardless of how well the horse has performed, we shouldn’t consider him a real Thoroughbred.

In the February 1836 issue, the question of ownership is given some shadowy clarity. Apparently both Col. J. H. Hammond and Walden co-owned Argyle, and they retained a one-third stake while bringing on board additional partners for the princely sum of $15,000. There is no further significant mention of him either in race results or articles until August 1836, when an article details an “unsuccessful race with Bascomb” and claims that Argyle has been withdrawn to parts unknown. From 1836 to 1838, Argyle was noted in five races, all in Virginia and Maryland. It appears Argyle retired from racing at eight years old in 1838.

Did Argyle return to Marietta after his racing career ended? We don’t know. But in looking at the history, you can see the contours of rivalry that match with the conflict that eventually tore apart the nation.


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

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 art and science! 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:

Barrel of the horse before treatment. Notice the green corrosion and "channels" created by rain water.
Barrel of the horse before treatment. Notice the green corrosion and streaks created by rain water.

To this?

Sea Hero after cleaning, treatment, new patina, and waxing.
Sea Hero after cleaning, treatment, wax, and polishing.

Not surprisingly, conserving an outdoor sculpture starts with the basics – getting it clean.

Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze with a special non-ionic detergent.
Andrew Baxter cleans the bronze with a special non-ionic detergent.

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.

Sea Hero during treatment.
Sea Hero during treatment.

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.

Sea Hero after treatment.
Sea Hero after treatment.

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