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OLYMPIC MUSEUM: The Olympics and art

September 24, 2013

When you hear the word Olympic, what do you think? Recently at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum we surveyed our visitors and asked them that question. Many people immediately thought of sports, while others thought of the rings. We had a few that said, "Athlete" and also "Lake Placid," but none of our visitors mentioned art.

Art has been associated with the Olympics since the time of the ancient Olympic Games, as is evidenced by the statue remains at ancient Olympia. Centuries later, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympics, mandated that the arts be represented at the Olympics again. He saw art competitions as integral to his vision of the Olympics and he was particularly impressed with the ancient Greek ideal of what it meant to be a true Olympian - someone who was not only athletic, but skilled artistically as well. He felt that in order to recreate the Olympic events in modern times, it would be incomplete to not include some aspect of the arts.

From 1912 to 1948, jurors at the Olympics awarded official medals for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music inspired by athletic endeavors, alongside those for the athletic competitions. Unfortunately after four decades, art competitions ended due to organizational problems and because many of the artists were considered professional, unlike the amateur status of the athletes competing in the Games. There was also a problem when it became apparent that the arts were becoming a competition between the cultural bodies of the various governments sending athletes to the Games. The International Olympic Committee finally agreed that the ethnic arts of the country and the host city should form the cultural component of the Olympic Games.

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Certainly the most unifying artistic endeavor of each Olympics has been the official poster created by the host city. The Lake Placid Olympic Museum has on display an amazing collection of posters from every Olympic Winter Games starting with the spectacular 1924 Chamonix poster created by Auguste Mattise. He was the first to design an Olympic poster with a winter theme and the winter posters that followed proved to be quite imaginative.

One of the most striking of the posters produced for the Winter Games is the one for the 1932 Olympics held in Lake Placid designed by New York City artist, Witold Gordon. This poster showcases American design from the era with its strong, bold black letters and a ski jumper superimposed over the image of North America.

The design is simple, yet unique among all the others in our collection. In 1980, the official emblem created by local artist, Robert Whitney was used in the official poster and its abstract design is a good example of the use of graphic design during that decade.

Following the rules of the Olympic Charter, Carolyn Hopkins of the National Fine Arts Committee organized for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games, a program which involved permanent and temporary exhibits throughout the village. As the Olympic Games spotlight the best young athletes from the participating nations, Hopkins and her committee felt that the cultural aspect of the Games should focus on the young and emerging arts from around the nation.

As part of the series of art programs being held, was a banner project consisting of 600 banner hangings designed by children from the Lake Placid area ranging from kindergarten to high-school classes. These outdoor banners were the official welcome to the Olympic region for the athletes and visitors coming for the Games. Unfortunately, not many of these remain and the museum has only a few in the collection. However, the 13 indoor banners that were designed by Patti Bellantoni and made by fabric artist, Linda Fisher are all still intact 33 years later. They hung inside the Olympic arena and depicted the actions of each major Olympic winter sport. These banners are now with the Olympic Museum and are displayed from time to time.

The Fine Arts Committee also planned a public sculpture program that has provided the community of Lake Placid with permanent mementos of the Olympics. One of these sculptures made of granite and steel stands feet away from the entrance of the museum; "Vans for Ruth" by James Buchanon.

Stay tuned for next month's article when we will highlight the sculptures that can still be seen in the village of Lake Placid. To learn more about the cultural arts in the Olympic Games and to see our collection of art, please visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Ironman Sunday. For more information about the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, see our Facebook page at:



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