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Olympic tour through art

Cassie Pence
1968 Chamrousse Isere Winter Olympics is by an anonymous artist.
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EDWARDS – What collector Steve Woodruff loves about poster art is how this early form of advertising represents a visual history of the time and place in which the art was created.Poster art debuted in Paris around 1850, providing a low-cost method of attracting people to theatrical and sporting events, as well as a way to promote store goods. Posters were glued all around cities on buildings, poles and train station walls. But for the modern viewer, poster art gives insight into past society. The images show how society has evolved in its thinking, politics, dress and art form. This is true of all the vintage posters hanging at Christopher & Co. – Woodruff’s gallery in Edwards – and it’s especially evident in his Winter Olympic Games collection.

Woodruff has posters promoting the Winter Olympic Games from 1924-1998, and he expects to collect the more recent additions soon. The 1924 Chamonix poster of the ski jumper is especially interesting, Woodruff points out, because viewers won’t find the words “Winter Olympic Games.” It wasn’t until one year after the Chamonix Games, at the 1925 Congress of Prague, that the International Olympic Committee officially gave the games its current title. Originally, it was called “The International Sports Week.””Poster art is multi-dimensional,” Woodruff said. “It shows the changing style of art and changing style of products. It shows the change in what a woman wears skiing. In one poster, she’s skiing in a dress with one pole, and in the next she’s in ski pants.”

Posters capture controversyA few of Woodruff’s posters show a bit of controversy surrounding the Olympic games. The art from the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Germany, designed by Ludwig Hohlwein, features a skier raising his right hand upward at an angle. Some believe that the skier is saluting Adolf Hitler, while others insist he is waving to the crowd.”Hohlwein was a favorite Nazi propagandist,” said Scott Burgess, a graphic artist who works at Christopher and Co.



In 1976, Denver was a candidate to host the Olympic games, and Woodruff said some of the events would have taken place in the Vail Valley. He has a poster campaigning for voters to accept the Olympic bid, but in the end, Colorado refused and Austria hosted the event.Austria’s poster shows a cowboy-looking character on cross-country skis, and Woodruff believes it was a jab at Colorado.”In my mind, the artist was making fun of Colorado,” Woodruff said. “He’s saying, ‘You guys couldn’t do it, but we can.’ Some say the character in the poster is what an Austrian countryman looks like, but no one’s going to convince me it’s not making fun of Colorado.”

Lesson in art historyPoster art is the first form of graphic design, said Burgess. The common use of bright colors was to catch people’s attention.”Through these posters, you can really see the history of art in the last 100 years,” Burgess said. “From the floral symmetry of art Nouveau to the art deco period in the 1920s and ’30s.”



Posters weren’t designed to become a collected art form, Woodruff said, they were created to communicate to the masses. The industry attracted many aspiring painters, like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who needed money to support their true passion. Woodruff, who’s been collecting posters for over 30 years, was first smitten by the art form while in Paris in the ’70s because it was the first kind of art he could afford.”I first began collecting posters for simple decoration on my wall,” Woodruff said.Women continue to sell

His passion has evolved, and now he owns the largest collection of antique ski posters in the world. Woodruff’s Olympic art plays a big role in that collection.The style of art and products featured in posters may have changed, but there is one element that has stayed true even in today’s advertising world.”A big kick to me is, they’ve use women to promote the games, even though in the beginning there were very few women competitors,” Woodruff said. “They knew back then that women sell.”

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14640, or cpence@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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