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The National Sporting Library and Museum

The National Sporting Library and Museum

Historic Middleburg, Virginia, with its reputation as the center of the horse and hunt communities of the region, is a fitting location for The National Sporting Library & Museum. The NSLM sits on a beautiful seven acre campus on the west end of the village. The library was founded in 1954 and originally resided in the original mansion (far right in the photo above). In 1991 the library moved to a new building (left), clearing the way for the renovation and expansion of the 1804 mansion into the museum, which opened its doors last October. Yesterday I visited the museum.

The inaugural exhibition, Afield in America: 400 Years of Animal and Sporting Art was designed to showcase the importance of animal and sporting art in American history and culture. Unfortunately this exhibit is now closed, yesterday was the last day. Furthermore, due to copyright restrictions, I can not show you many photos from the exhibit. But I wanted to share my impressions of the museum and this show, as it is a wonderful museum and I know the NSLM's future exhibits will be equally compelling.

My first impression of the museum was of very soothing light, and I was struck by two large paintings in the first of many rooms that house over 150 works of wildlife and sporting art. The first thing you see when you open the doors is the exhibit's signature painting, William Ranney's On the Wing (1850, pictured above). Immediately to the right is a pleasantly staffed information desk, and to the left is a wall containing some items from the museum's permanent collection. Among them, this fantastic, very large painting, Foxhounds and Terrier in a Stable Interior, by John Emms (1878).

From there I weaved through several rooms on two floors, each beautifully decorated, open and airy, and each featuring a collection of art organized by subject matter. The Wildlife room, for instance, contained paintings and sculptures depicting quail, ducks, geese, deer, buffalo, elk, fox, bear, moose and wolves. One painting in particular draws my attention here. Lone Wolf (1930) by Carl Olaf Seltzer is a haunting image of a solitary wolf in snow.

While horses find their way into almost every genre here, the room dedicated to equine art shows just how diverse the horse's role in American sporting life has been. Polo, trotting, thoroughbred racing, steeplechase and fox hunting are all here. Even bronco busting is represented with one of Frederic Remington's incredible sculptures.

Other highlights of the exhibit for me include a relatively recent work, Tucker Smith's stunning 36"x120" The Refuge, a magnificent portrayal of Wyoming's Wind River Range and the National Elk Refuge, including thousands of migrating elk.

In the 'Hunting with Hounds' room, I was drawn to a lovely series of 9 small portraits of hounds by Gustave Muss-Arnolt (1885). And in the 'Angling' room, I spent some time getting lost in Roy Martell Mason's In a Tight Place, painted in 1936 but a timeless portrayal of a fly fisherman and guide, working together to net a spectacular trout.

As I left the campus I decided to get a closer look at the fine statue marking the center of the circle in front of the library and museum, and I'm glad I did. A plaque below it pays homage to all the horses and mules lost in the Civil War, many of those meeting their fate in battles within 20 miles of where the statue stands. It's easy to forget the vital role horses play in warfare, but this fine work serves as a reminder to all who visit. I know I will be back to this great museum, I look forward to seeing the upcoming exhibit beginning in February. Watch LoudounArts.com for news and updates about this and other museums throughout this county so rich with history.

For more from Ed Felker, visit his blog, Dispatches from the Potomac.

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