Story and photos by Richard Hooper

The circuitous paths of research for writing articles under the heading of “Then & There” begin with the resources of the “here and now.” Private collections, internet archives, and public institutions, such as the National Sporting Library & Museum here in Middleburg, are doors into the history of who we were and what we have done. While the course of human activity has not always been civilized, collecting and cataloging this record is highly so.

Recently, the coronavirus closed the doors to these public institutions worldwide. I was scheduled to fly to London this March to research a book I am writing focused on the history of early dog shows. I was reluctantly forced to cancel my flight a few days prior to its scheduled departure. Shortly thereafter, the British Library, the Kennel Club, and several other museums I had planned to visit announced they were temporarily closing. Visits to the New York Public Library and the library located within the American Kennel Club and Museum of the Dog were also, of necessity, postponed. Doors to history were being closed and locked, forcing me to become more diligent in finding and accessing online resources. Amazing as it is, the internet does not, however, access everything housed in these and other valuable institutions.

Fortunately, these doors have begun to reopen, including those of the National Sporting Library & Museum. I don’t know when I will make my way to London (or New York, for that matter), but I quickly made my way back to the NSLM, a much valued, regular resource. It felt like a personal renaissance when I walked through its familiar doors.

The NSLM is a local and national treasure, the library housing a wealth of information in its books and archival materials. The museum always has works from its permanent collection on display. Among the special exhibitions it has held are The Horse in Ancient Greek Art, Side-by-Side with Gun and Dog, and A Brief History of Black Horsemen in Racing. There have been two exhibitions relating to side-saddle. When the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was remodeling the gallery that displays the Paul Mellon sporting art collection, the works became a traveling exhibition, with its first stop being the NSLM. The next venue was the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris. There have been exhibitions of the art of Edward Troye, Sir Alfred Munnings, Reuben Ward Binks, and others. 

There have also been two exemplary exhibitions devoted to the works of Paul Brown, illustrator, printmaker, and painter of horse racing, fox hunting, steeplechasing, and other equestrian themes. The NSLM has a magnificent collection of his art and books, the major portion donated by his daughter, Nancy Searles. Brown’s work is included in the upcoming exhibition Thrill of the ’Chace: Steeplechase in Art, opening on Sept. 9. 

Polo was another important subject for Paul Brown, as it is to the NSLM. The annual Polo Classic serves as its only fundraiser. This year, the 10th anniversary, it is being held on Sept. 13 at Great Meadows in The Plains, with two top tier matches and the parade of the Orange County Hounds. Due to COVID-19, safety arrangements have been carefully and creatively thought out to provide distancing between tailgating groups of six people each. Ticket sales were scheduled to end on Aug. 24 (tickets will not be sold at the gate this year). Details are available online at nationalsporting.org/nslm/event_details/973/

Even with the doors open, there are restrictions at the NSLM. The library is open by appointment from Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is open with allocated time slots at 11 a.m. for members, and at 2 p.m. for general admission. Arrangements can be made online at nslm.org. Masks must be worn, and social distancing maintained. Public restrooms are closed. 

It is a most welcome and wonderful reopening. ML

Published in the September 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.