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Auctions spark Olympic Museum manager’s passion for history

January 16, 2014
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

Like many museum professionals, Lake Placid Olympic Museum director Alison Haas fell in love with the U.S. version of the "Antiques Roadshow" television program when it first aired on PBS in 1997.

A 1996 graduate of the Potsdam High School, Haas was studying art history at the time at St. Lawrence University in Canton.

"On Saturday mornings, I would wake up while all my other friends were sleeping in, and I would go to auctions," Haas said. "And I became obsessed with objects."

Article Photos

Above, Lake Placid Olympic Museum director Alison Haas peeks through the new Sonja Henie exhibit. Below, left to right, she shows off the new magnetic Sonja Henie paper dress display and indoor curling sheet.
(Photo by Andy Flynn)

After graduating in 1999, she moved from cow country to the big city - Boston - to work for the Skinner auction house, where a lot of the "Antiques Roadshow" appraisers worked. She was learning the auction business and the history behind decorative arts.

"My life plan was never necessarily auctions but just to become an expert in one particular field, and my passion was 20th century pottery," Haas said.

Her life is much different now - with a husband and and baby girl at home in the town of Jay - and she can pinpoint the moment her life changed, at least in her mind.

"I had this little moment, when I was unwrapping pottery for an upcoming auction at Skinner, that I did not want to be the person unwrapping and setting up the auction," Haas said. "I wanted to be the person telling people about that particular vase that made my heart flutter."

She wanted to be an educator. So in 2001, Haas went back to the classroom for a year, studying the history of design at Kingston University's graduate school near London, England. She also decided to live away from a big city.

"I was in Boston for a year-and-a-half, and I quickly realized that I was definitely not a city girl," Haas said.

After Haas returned to the U.S., she moved to Lake Placid, working for the Lussi family at the Holiday Inn, which has been called the Crowne Plaza Resort since 2005.

"As I was writing my dissertation, I was the golf house manager," Haas said, adding that she also worked at the front desk and in the sales and marketing department. "And I was always very clear that I was interested in working in a museum, so it was no surprise to them that I ended up leaving and going to the Lake Placid Lodge."

At the Lake Placid Lodge, she became the art coordinator, as the lodge features artwork and furniture made by local artisans.

"I was also the concierge," Haas said. "So I really got to know Lake Placid very well and the area in terms of what was available."

In 2004, Haas made the move to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, which is operated by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. Her first job was ticket seller. When museum director Liz DeFazio retired in February 2012, Haas filled in as interim director before securing the job and being given the title of museum manager.

The challenges that face Haas on a daily basis are not new to museum managers or state employees who are routinely asked to operate a facility during tough financial times. Limited funding and resources could entice some managers to live with the status quo, but not Haas. She feels a duty to create professional exhibits, and she has fun doing it.

"That's where I need to be creative," Haas said.

Creating more interactive exhibits is a priority for Haas, and she's been successful so far with two projects: the indoor curling experience created by Olympic Center workers who used scraps on hand; and the magnetic Sonja Henie paper doll exhibit, also created in house with little overhead.

"We're trying to make the museum look more modern and visually attractive to customers who may not already have any knowledge of winter sports or the Olympics. We want them to come in," Haas said. "We try to provide a history of the winter heritage that started in Lake Placid in terms of the winter sports, and then we have artifacts, photographs and video to help tell the story of the Olympic games that happened at each venue."

People can't touch most of the artifacts in the museum, but many visitors want to know whether they can touch the blue bobsled that greets them after purchasing a ticket.

"They ask, 'Can I get into that bobsled?' We say, 'Yes, yes you can,'" Haas said.

As would be expected, the Lake Placid Olympic Museum staff caters to people with a wide variety of ages, backgrounds and languages. And they get a lot of questions.

In addition to the question - "Where are the bathrooms?" - people ask, "Are those the real torches?"

"And we say, 'Yes, those are the real torches. They make multiple torches. Every runner has their own torch,'" Haas said.

People also ask, "Where's the athletes' village?" Many don't know that the athletes' village for the 1980 Olympic Winter Games was built in Ray Brook in the late 1970s, and after the games, it was turned into the Federal Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison.

"Steve (a ticket seller) always responds and says, 'If you rob our local bank, you can get in there,'" Haas said.

Another popular question is, "Are the Olympics ever going to come back to Lake Placid?"

"We say that the Olympic games would drastically have to change in order for that to happen in Lake Placid again," Haas said.

After leaving the museum, Haas wants visitors to take away the sense that Lake Placid is a special Olympic community, not just because it hosted two sets of games but because it continues to be active in the Olympic movement.

"I want them to understand the depth of the history that Lake Placid has with winter sports," Haas said. "Having sent an athlete to every winter Olympic games since 1924 is pretty major."

For more information about the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, call 518-302-5377 or visit online at www.whiteface.com.

 
 

 

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