A Tour of Lake Placid’s Public Art on Display
During the 1980 Winter Games

This image is a map of each art exhibit that is displayed in Lake Placid. The following list is a description of each art piece 1. High Peaks 2. Sonje Henie Ice fountain 3. Olympic center murals 4. Maya 5. Placid 6. 30 below 7. vans for ruth

 

1980 Public Art Installations You Can Experience Today
Despite direct exposure to more than 40 years of harsh outdoor weather, many of the permanent public art installations commissioned by the Lake Placid Arts Committee can still be viewed. One simply has to know where they are. 

Overview

In 1904, nine years after the Lake Placid Club was founded, our little mountain village began welcoming its first winter guests. That was the year people began to ski, skate, and sled. The year Lake Placid discovered its destiny. 

Then in February 1921 Lake Placid hosted its first major competition, an international ski jumping event, which immediately imbued our village with global prestige as a winter sport destination, something other tiny towns could never hope to achieve. Through the decades and over countless events, including two Winter Olympic Games, this reputation grew.  

Athletes, sport, and the iconic moments they produce are inextricably woven into our community. And though this rich tapestry of winter sport has kept us on the world stage for more than 100 years, we recognize there will always be more to this picture of who we are. No one would deny, for example, the powerful lure of nature among these High Peaks or the aesthetic appeal of our Adirondack culture. Despite the preponderance of things that spring from sport, there are always more perspectives and more stories of our community and its people.   

One of those stories is our art. It was always the dream of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement, to unite the countries around the globe in healthy sporting competition while also uniting the worlds of art with this world of athletes. In fact, between 1912 and 1948, every Olympic Games awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals to artists, too.  

Despite that history, it is a little-known fact that during the 12 days of the 1980 Olympics, Lake Placid was home to most extensive and diverse array of art programs at an Olympics, summer or winter. During the Games, sport towers over everyday life no matter where you are in the world, so naturally, here in Lake Placid in the epicenter of it all, there was little focus put on the artworks displayed in our village. With the beautiful winter landscape all around and the best athletes in the world competing in so many different events, the groundbreaking arts programs were not attracting a lot of attention.  

But as Lake Placid has shown many times in its history, this was a village that wouldn’t be held back. In fact, arts programming for the 1980 Lake Placid Games set an important precedent. According to Naj Wikoff, a seventh generation Lake Placid resident and the Vice-Chair of the National Fine Arts Committee for the Winter Olympiad, the breadth of the program was broader than ever. While other Olympic hosts chose one art form to specialize in, the committee in Lake Placid opted for a far wider range by commissioning arts across multiple disciplines, including emerging talents ranging from the Pilobolus Dance Company, Nam June Paik (the originator of video art), and environmental renowned sculptors Mary Miss and Nancy Holt among others. The arts program featured dance, music, photography, poetry, storytelling, sculpture, both temporary and permanent public art, theatre, and more. What they created at the time was the most diverse arts festival ever held at an Olympics.  

One goal was to get youth involved, not simply watching events but as participants. They designed and produced more than 500 banners and posters on Olympic and Adirondack themes, designed cards for the athletes, and even joined a New York State Education Department contest to create a musical composition. The contest was won by three students who performed their songs during the Festival of Youth Art.  

The Committee’s groundbreaking work was an intentional effort to create and artistic balance between physical sports and creative human expression. One that would bring to the foreground the deeper meaning of the Olympic Games – specifically, the ongoing development of the whole person.  

1.) High Peaks

On the shore of Mirror Lake between the Toboggan Chute and the Village Beach is this welded steel sculpture by Joel Perlman of New York City. This dark structure is said to serve as an exploration of both the resonances and tensions between that which is naturally occurring and that which is manufactured, between our human connection to nature and our estrangement from it.  

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2.) Sonje Henie Ice Fountain

One piece that received an especially warm welcome in Lake Placid was this five-globed frozen fountain by Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar. It stands to this day in front of the 1932 entrance to the Olympic Center and was dedicated to the 1930s Norwegian figure skating phenome Sonja Henie. Originally, the lattice globes were sheathed in ice and lit from inside, and though those temporary aspects of the work were short-lived due to design flaws, this timeless and poignant piece has been well preserved for the benefit of future generations of Lake Placid residents and visitors.  

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3.) Olympic Center Murals

Two large murals that include winter sport items and an Olympic gold medal, all painted by artist Don Nice, remain on display inside the 1980 Herb Brooks arena on the mezzanine level. One decorates the media room on the USA Rink side and the other the hallway at the top of the glass stairwell nearest the Miracle Plaza. The items are painted with a red, white, blue, and gold theme and incorporate great attention to detail and accuracy that lends them a realistic style. 

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4.) Maya

Between the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and the Stewart’s shop next door is a bright, metallic sculpture by Linda Howard, an artist well known for large scale outdoor works. Made of parallel, rectangular bars, it stands in what was originally a field, one that is now mostly a parking lot. It is a simple shape made of closely set metal bars arranged to incrementally rise and twist, creating a visual challenge that keeps its shape while at the same time distorting its perspective across itself.  

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5.) Placid

Though not commissioned for the Olympic Games by the Arts Festival Committee, this massive steel piece by Lyman Kipp was part of a campaign to cultivate interest in public sculpture leading up to 1980. After being vandalized by spray paint, Kipp’s work was moved after the 1980 Games from the Mill Pond Park to the Village Electric Department, where it sat for several years before funding was raised to restore the sculpture and install it on the lawn of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. According to research by Skidmore College students Maddie Egger and Evan Little, Kipp’s participation in this campaign also inspired Linda Howard’s interest in creating her contribution of the artwork, Maya. Fittingly, the two artworks are now located in sight of one another.  

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6.) 30 Below

Next to Old Military Road at the Lake Placid Community Garden is a towering red-brick artwork by Nancy Holt, who is among the best known of the 1980 Olympic artists. Rising thirty feet above a grassy field, this cylindrical, chimney like structure includes both vertically oriented “windows” to the outside world arranged according to the points of a compass and small earthen ramps splaying in two directions. Visitors to the artwork can walk inside for unique perspectives on the outdoor world surrounding the structure and also walk up the grass covered berms to feel the artwork and peer into it from its windows. Holt’s concept was to focus the entire Universe on this particular spot in Lake Placid while also identifying its precise location with cosmological coordinates.  

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7.) Vans for Ruth

Originally installed in front of the Olympic Center’s Link Building (now the new Miracle Plaza), this cryptically titled steel and granite sculpture by Tennessee artist James Buchman is today displayed quite beautifully and prominently in front of the Mountain Pass Lodge at Mt Van Hoevenberg. Inspired by the masterpiece of ancient Greek sculpture “Wings of Victory, its shapes and materials have been interpreted to signify the pull between our highest aspirations and the inevitability of time 

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Pieces No Longer on Display

In advance of the 1980 Olympic Games, many other artworks were commissioned, created, and put on display throughout the community of Lake Placid. Some were designed as temporary pieces, and others simply deteriorated over time and were removed: 

  • A structure made entirely of snow by artist Lloyd Hamrol stood during the winter of 1980 among the trees at the old Lake Placid Resort Hotel on Mirror Lake.  
  • The “Reading House” was constructed by artist Siah Armanjani on a street near the Kiwanis Teddy Bear Park. Irregular structural elements were built into this work, such as an irregular roofline and skewed axis. It was relocated to the Art Center where it stood for many years before deteriorating and being removed.  
  • Weathervanes on aluminum rods, 750 of them in all, comprised the temporary artwork titled “Field of Vision” by Doug Hollis. Set up on the Lake Placid Golf Course, this expansive but fragile piece was meant to replicate how clouds help us visualize the wind. As a temporary piece it was removed shortly after the games.  
  • Off Old Barn Road near Price Chopper on a hill behind the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center was installed a series of framed screens and fencing titled, Veiled Landscape. Created by Mary Miss, this was intended as a temporary work, offering a viewing platform with a framed postcard-like view of the mountain landscape in the distance.  
  • Widely known for her large-scale, site-specific artworks, Elyn Zimmerman created an untitled piece installed in the field behind the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. A spacious artwork of 19 metal fences framing two large boulders was designed to lead visitors to a pond in the woods. The two boulders are all that remain today.  

During the installation of these artworks, all these artists welcomed residents and visitors to stop and see the sites and discuss their works of art. During this period, art adorned the community, and at the time, Lake Placid held the distinction of being a little village with the greatest number of sculptures anywhere north of New York City.  

So although our community has long been the focus of the world for winter sports, we have also for nearly a half century been a late modernist gallery space for public art. That largely unseen yet honorable distinction we owe to many dedicated artists and art enthusiasts from our community involved in the National Fine Arts Committee who commissioned these works and inspired the creation of the Arts Olympiads, now an ongoing feature of the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.