If there is truth to the classical notion that the human body is the source of all beauty, then there is a natural marriage between sport and art. At least that is the thinking of Germain Glidden, a Harvard-educated artist and former U.S. squash champion who, in 1959, founded the National Art Museum of Sports (NAMOS). "If you study the history of art from just about any period, there's an immense emphasis put on the portrayal of the human body," says Glidden. "And in my mind, nothing accents the human body more than sports."
The gallery Glidden began in his house now fills 10,750 square feet on two floors of a building in downtown Indianapolis. It includes more than 1,000 works, and this year it will attract more than 150,000 visitors. Last month NAMOS unveiled its most ambitious exhibit, a 40-year retrospective of work by the illustrator Donald Moss. "People come here not quite sure what to expect," says Ann Rein, the museum's administrative director, "but they are amazed that so many significant artists have done renderings in sports."
While the works in the collection share the fairly narrow theme of sports, the games represented range from football and baseball to ice yachting and a permutation of tennis called "hard rackets." No less eclectic are the media used to portray them. For instance, adjacent to a large tapestry celebrating Inuit games stands a seven-foot bronze statue of former Boston Celtics star Bob Cousy, sculpted by Stanley Martineau in 1963 on commission from former Celtics owner Walter Brown.
The museum fulfilled a dream for the 82-year-old Glidden, whose identity was always equal parts athlete and aesthete. As a senior at Harvard in 1935-36 he was the national and collegiate squash champion and the captain of the Crimson tennis team. He also served as the drawing and cartoons editor of the Harvard Lampoon, and after graduating with a degree in fine arts, he enrolled at the Art Students League of New York. At night he exchanged paintbrush and oils for a squash racket, and he defended his national title in 1937 and 1938. "Being an athlete and an artist," Glidden says, "I kept thinking, Why not put these two universal languages together?"
He committed himself to promoting art through athletics and athletics through art. "Finances kept me from becoming a rabid collector," says Glidden, who has made a modest living as an artist, "but I got pieces whenever I could and worked hard myself at painting athletes, both in action and in portraits."
The first piece Glidden acquired remains one of his favorites: a 1909 tempera painting by Peter Helck of a tire-changer during the Brighton Beach, N.Y., 24-hour auto race. Slowly Glidden's collection outgrew the studio in his Norwalk, Conn., house. He was granted a charter from New York State for a nonprofit sports-art museum in 1959, and three years later NAMOS mounted its first exhibit, at Madison Square Garden. After that the collection moved to the University of New Haven, before taking up residence at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis in 1994. The works on display there include five by Glidden himself.
If the founder has one criticism of the sports-art movement, it is that too few women are portrayed. "Because of the history of sports, until recently there were far more male athletes than female," says Glidden, a widower who has three daughters, four grandchildren and a great-grandson. For now, though, Glidden is about to unveil a painting of George Bush, which was commissioned by Bayard Sharp, a friend of Glidden's from their prep school days at Exeter. The portrait shows the former president pitching horseshoes, playing tennis and golf, and, as the captain of the Yale baseball team, chatting with Babe Ruth.
"People who want to start museums are either millionaires, or they're crazy about what they're doing," Glidden says. "Let's just say I'm not a millionaire."