New Exhibit Opens at National Racing Museum

Exhibit includes items in need of restoration or repair.

(Edited press release)

The National Museum of Racing’s new exhibit “Preserving our Past” is open in the von Stade Gallery. Featuring several paintings and trophies from the permanent collection, the exhibit, staged by museum curator of collections Beth Sheffer, will run until Dec. 31.

Also, the museum in Saratoga Springs, NY has reopened the “Ride On!” exhibit about equine medicine has reopened to the public in the McBean Gallery.

The exhibits are open during the museum’s regular hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The Museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during the racing season.

All the pieces in the “Preserving our Past” exhibit are in need of conservation work and due to their condition many of them have not been on display in years. The exhibit explains what is required to restore the pieces and invites visitors to help sponsor the work.

Art created by Edward Troye, Henry Stull, and Martin Stainforth are represented in the collection. The exhibit features portraits of horse owner and breeder James Ben Ali Haggin, Hall of Fame jockey Frank “Dooley” Adams, American Eclipse, Swaps, Reigh Count, and Iroquois, the first horse bred in America to win the Epsom Derby.

“I have been thinking about an exhibit like this since I went to the American Association of Museums conference in Boston in 2006,” Sheffer said.  “In one of the seminars, staff members from an institution in Maine discussed how while searching for a way to fundraise for collections care they decided to actually show the pieces in need of conservation. Each label included an estimate of the cost of the work needed to be done on that piece. Visitors will have the opportunity to donate money toward the restoration of individual objects on display.

“A portion of the money collected went into developing a collections care fund for future conservation needs. They said the exhibit was a success and I thought that concept would be well received here.”

Assisting in the exhibit were Susan Blakney of Westlake Conservators and Roger Jette of RO Jette Antique Restoration, who examined the items Sheffer selected and provided estimates.

“I chose pieces with varying degrees of deterioration or damage, showing a broad range of common conservation issues,” Sheffer said. “Tears in the canvas, loss of paint, cracked frames, bent or broken metal are among the examples being exhibited.”

 “There’s always a couple of options in treating something and it really depends on the curatorial decision as to whether to go for a complete treatment or not. Sometimes it’s budget-driven,” Blakney said. “There are a few paintings that we examined that have had poor treatment and reversing poor treatment is the most expensive job we ever do. We have to undo the last treatment, remove all the materials and put it all back together again. In some instances it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s not.”

Blakney said the exhibit is an effective way for visitors to become directly involved with saving important pieces.

“It’s a fabulous idea because right now the nation’s collections are in crisis,” she said. “There will never be enough money – unless the public jumps on board – to care for our collections. We’re losing them faster than we’re saving them. And our young conservators can’t find jobs because museums have been laying off conservators. It’s too bad because the need is there, but there just isn’t the money right now to pay for the tasks that need to be done.

“There is a call to action nation-wide to save our nation’s patrimony and that means that we need the public’s support. It’s fun, really. It’s like a treasure hunt to be involved. We’ve done this before, where you could sponsor the treatment of a painting. It’s been successful in many other museums.”

The “Ride On!” exhibit has undergone some changes since last year. The majority of the Barbaro artifacts that were on display were sent to the Kentucky Derby Museum for its exhibit “Barbaro: the Heart of a Winner”, which opened in conjunction with the dedication of the Barbaro sculpture at gate 1 of Churchill Downs.

Among the new items in the exhibit are several more trophies won by Hall of Famer Sunday Silence, specially made horseshoes and boots for treating laminitis, a horse hoof plastinated slice model, an antique cautery set, dental floats, and an antique microscope.