ON THE SCENE: Olympians’ art on display at Olympic Center
Lake Placid is intended to become the home of a museum and arts program dedicated to encouraging and showcasing art created by Olympians and other athletes of all ages and circumstances. The late four-time gold medal-winning Summer Olympian Al Oerter proposed the creation of such a museum following his retirement as a competitive athlete and taking up painting.
While Oerter was able to create art, launch Art of the Olympains and showcase the work of other Olympians, following his death in 2006, his wife Cathy, a former world-class track and field athlete, brought his vision to reality in 2010, creating a museum in their home community of Fort Meyers, Florida.
Unfortunately, in 2022, Hurricane Ian destroyed the museum along with works of art contained within. Consequently, Cathy has been looking for a new home in a community less vulnerable to natural disasters of a similar scale and that has a deep connection to Olympic athletes.
Lake Placid fits that bill.
World Figure and Fancy Skating Champion Shepard Clark, who is also a talented jeweler, recommended that Oerter consider Lake Placid, a two-time host of the Winter Olympics, site of an Olympic training center and for decades the center of figure skating in the United States. As figure skating incorporates a range of artistic components, Clark felt no better place existed. Last May, Clark connected Oerter with Mike Pratt, who recently retired as the president and CEO of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority. Pratt enthusiastically supported the idea, and an initial exhibition coinciding with the World Fancy and Figure Skating Championships held this past weekend.
On Friday morning, Oct. 6, at a press conference at the Olympic Center’s Roamers Cafe, new ORDA President and CEO Ashley Walden announced the opening of a multi-venue exhibition of art created by Olympians and the dream of Lake Placid becoming the next home of Art of the Olympians Museum. The exhibits feature a gallery across from the Roamers Cafe filled with art by Olympians and additional artworks displayed at the Olympic Jumping Complex and Mount Van Hoevenberg base lodges.
“One of the things that makes sports special is that brings visitors here, be it to participate in sport or just for tourism itself,” said Walden. “Sport helps capture something special and passionate within people. With this in mind, we are very excited to announce a collaboration with the Al Oerter Foundation and Art of the Olympians to showcase the amazing work created by Olympians from around the world at our venues. This partnership elevates and celebrates art within our historic sports venues and provides new cultural and learning experiences throughout all of them.”
Since its founding in 2006, the Al Oerter Foundation, through its program Art of the Olympians, has coupled exhibitions of art created by Olympians and Paralympians with initiatives that combine art, education, sport and cultural outreach that are taking place nationally and internationally as a means of inspiring individuals and communities to uphold Olympic ideals.
Examples of international activities include exhibitions of art by Olympians at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, two exhibitions at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the most recent Beijing Olympics.
“With Lake Placid’s long-standing history in sport and art dating back to 1932, and I am sure long before that, we’re excited about bringing that collaboration forward,” said Cathy Oerter. “Al was a New Yorker, born and bred, whose heart was always in New York, so he would be very pleased that it’s come full circle with Lake Placid as our new home base. In 2006, Al said that we need to teach our kids that it’s not all about winning; he felt it was about the body, mind and spirit connection, and that’s what he wanted to get across.”
Celebrating the whole person — the body, mind and spirit — through art was the purpose of Lake Placid’s 1980 Winter Olympics National Fine Arts program, the first Arts Olympiad held at a summer or winter Olympic Games. Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympic, described this vision in the first principle of the Olympic Charter: “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life.”
Art Lussi, ORDA board vice chair, shared how a sculptor inspired his grandfather Gus Lussi’s approach to training figure skaters, helping him understand the fundamental principles of how a body’s muscles work to enhance performance. In addition, Lussi shared how his grandfather may have been the first person in the late 30s to tint the color of ice for ice shows and how he loved developing music programs for his skaters to interpret.
“I think it’s no coincidence that figure skating and gymnastics are such popular summer and winter Olympic sports,” said Lussi. “They demand, like figure skating, athletic prowess with artistic impression and the interpretation of music. My grandfather loved working with athletes who could combine jumping, spinning, and edge control with musical interpretation.”
Former Olympic javelin thrower (1984 and 1988 for Great Britain) and Olympic artist (2000 for the USA), Roald Bradstock, now serving as the executive director of the Al Oerter Foundation, said that he always had a twin love of sport and art, the challenge of pursuing a career in both, and how the two nourished him in ways that one alone couldn’t. Bradstock said that while focusing on the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles, their more significant goal is encouraging more athletes of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to participate in the arts, with Lake Placid becoming a vital center for exhibition, programming and research.
1963 United States Figure Skating Champion, 1964 Olympian, the first skater to land a triple toe loop in competition and Olympic coach Tommy Litz shared how inspirational he found Al Oerter’s art.
“If you want to see a remarkable example of Olympic art, check out Cathy’s husband,” said Litz. “Al creates the most exciting and graceful motion in abstract art imaginable. The main word I would pay attention to is graceful because we see something very exciting, which it is, and very forceful, but the art you see is very graceful.”
“My hope is with Lake Placid, we can take this art, this program to Cortina, that all the visitors who come through these doors, all the visitors ORDA gets, that they’re going to see something spectacular, and that we’re going to extend the reach of this program throughout the world,” said Cathy Oertner.
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)