Life of the Party: The National Sporting Art Museum

Virginia’s Horse Country saddled up for the opening of the new National Sporting Art Museum.
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There were three days of coaching drives along the secluded and isolated back roads of Upperville. Photo by Katie Kennedy.

The hills of Virginia’s horse country echoed last weekend with the distant strains of coaching horns and the toe tapping tunes of the for an elegant celebration of social and sporting festivities surrounding the grand opening of the National Sporting Art Museum in Middleburg.

The magnificent gathering, one of the biggest Middleburg has ever seen, included three days of coaching drives along the secluded and isolated back roads of Upperville.

The antique coaches and sporting vehicles were driven by a stellar list of driving enthusiasts from around the country which included of The Plains, Sasha Rockefeller from New York, of Upperville, from Chester Springs, Pa., from Aiken, S.C., from Kohler, Wisc.and of Chadds Ford, Pa.

The gleaming road coaches and park drag vehicles propelled by all sizes, types and colors of horses and ponies were attended by footmen, coachmen and grooms in spotless attire. As the group traveled across the countryside a guard on the back of the carriage announced their arrival by horn, a ritual which dates to the era of British mail delivery.

When coaches were the only form of wheeled transportation, the guard would alert other coaches to clear the road. The notes were universal and remain in use today for pleasure driving and in competition. The three-foot long copper or silver horn creates a strong low pitched tone. The calls include Change Horses, Near Side, Slacken Pace, Pull Up and Steady.

The stops along the way included a luncheon at Llangollen, the sprawling estate now home to the family and daughter Maureen Brennen’s Virginia International  Polo School.

The magnificent 13,000-square foot home was built in 1830 once belonged to and his legendary wife, , when they purchased it in 1930.

The National Sporting Library was founded in 1954, and is dedicated to preserving, promoting, and sharing the literature, art, and culture of equestrian and field sports. Over the years it has expanded to become an important research facility and art museum with over 17,000 books and works of art in the collections, with information shared through exhibits, lectures, seminars, publications and special events. The John H. Daniels Fellowship program supports scholarship, bringing in researchers from all over the world, sometimes months at a time. The library and museum are both open to the public.

“It’s quite an accomplishment to create an environment that preserves historic works of art and reflects the character it seeks to protect,” said board chair . “We’re extremely grateful to our contributors, and proud to provide access to international scholars and the public to learn about American field sports.”

Executive director told attendees that he sees the new 13,000 square foot museum as an opportunity to “expand our appeal to a national audience…Sporting art exhibits will draw people to our campus and they will see the depth of our organization and the way in which both the Library and Museum work together. The inaugural exhibit for the museum reflects that relationship.”

The addition of the new $8 million Sporting Art Museum designed by architect last weekend was years in the making, with generous gifts from the likes of the Mars, , Brennan, Kohler and Arundel families. The gala opening by Los Angeles-based event planner of V Productions, began with passed hors d’oeuvres and champagne flutes as part of the museum’s opening exhibition, Afield in America: 400 Years of Animal & Sporting Art 1585-1985.

Curated by The Red Fox Inn’s , who has devoted endless hours and years toward this debut, the exhibit is based upon a book he wrote which was printed by the library and is intended to raise awareness of the importance of animal and sporting art as a reflection of American history and cultural life.

From the museum, guests moved into a circus-sized tent decorated with mountains of orchids flown in specially from South America, with oversized sporting prints gracing the tent and ceiling.

And there we found the familiar faces of Hunt Country: museum givers Virginia Mars, Virginia , , , Olympic bronze medialist , Gail and Malcolm Matheson, Julie and Charley Matheson, Washington Business Journal Publisher and Washington Life Associate Publisher .

Museum chair Manuel Johnson talked with Rep. (R-VA.) in one corner, while sportsman and plumbing products magnate Herb Kohler chatted up sportswriter . Courtney and chatted with old and new friends, while Jacquie Ohrstrom caught up with former Federal Elections Commissioner and Texas oilman and wife Cate Mageniss Wyatt, founder of the Journey Thru Hallowed Ground.

Following a sumptuous dinner of Autumn root vegetables, Angus beef and Chesapeake rockfish, and a dessert of pear in brioche with Armagnac ice cream, an assortment of Dove and Ethyl M chocolates were offered…courtesy of gala co-chair .

And then the evening started to really sway as The Gene Donati Orchestra struck up with that Big Band classic “In The Mood.” From there, there was absolutely no thought of Slacken Pace, Pull Up and Steady.

Virginia's horse country was bristling last weekend with the distant strains of coaching horns. Photo by Katie Kennedy.

The antique coaches and sporting vehicles were driven by a stellar list of driving enthusiasts from around the country. Photo by Katie Kennedy.

The gleaming road coaches and park drag vehicles propelled by all sizes, types and colors of horses and ponies were attended by footmen, coachmen and grooms in spotless attire. Photo by Katie Kennedy.

As the group traveled across the countryside a guard on the back of the carriage announced their arrival by horn, a ritual which dates to the era of British mail delivery. Photo by Katie Kennedy.

The stops along the way included a luncheon at Llangollen, the sprawling estate now home to the Donald Brennen family. Photo by Katie Kennedy.

For more info on the National Sporting Library and Museum, click here. http://www.nsl.org/

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