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Ski Art

Don’t be amused if you read that many people wait in huge lines at famous galleries or linger on the phone for hours to buy a Sascha Maurer poster (first circulated in 1935), which depicts a woman on a mono-lift, her skis facing the sky and the Smuggler Notch in the background. The hand goes up and the hammer drops. The deal is on for 1,100 dollars. Shortly after, all eyes turn to a bright poster, in which skiers encircle the Round House restaurant in Sun Valley. The hammer drops for 3,000 dollars. The soul of this process is a dealer at PBS Antiques Roadshow, who is already auctioning another collection of ski posters. «Posters depicting skiers are in demand partly for the subject they depict and partly for the artist who has designed them, as well as for their design», explains Lowry, president of Swann Galleries, an auction house created in 1941 in New York. Lowry is also the main auctioneer at Swann and the manager of the poster department. Swann Galleries and Christie’s East of London were the main responsibles for the widespread interest in ski posters. Both houses started auctioning them just a few years ago. Major art dealers around the world realised that a new trend was being created and worked on offering their clients a large collection of rare works to select from. «Posters showing moments from the life of a skier have joined the elite of travel posters », says the president of International Poster Gallery of Boston and one of the greatest dealers in this form of art. «Ski history is interesting; it has demand and this shows in the constantly-increasing prices of posters.

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The latter combine travel, sport and fashion in one image. Highly irresistible». The majority of posters date back the 1890 decade. One of the most famous is the «Sports D’Hiver Chamonix (Mont Blanc) », by Jules Abel Faivre, which depicts a young woman in a long dress, sliding down a slope with her skis, using a single stick as a handle. The Europeans have surpassed the Americans in the production of posters. France, Austria, Germany and Italy have produced hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing posters, especially during the golden age of this kind of design, between 1925 and 1955. Hotels like the Seiler Hotels in Zermatt use image to attract customers. United Airlines has used Jean-Claude Killy to advertise «the airline that flies sports champions». Anything related to ski seems to have found its best depiction. Fred Iselin Ski School, in Aspen, produces its own posters, same as the Hannes Schneider Ski School, in North Conway. Ski manufacturers, like Northland and Spaulding, have also joined the dance, using romanticism to present their products. If you search some more, you will find posters from the Winter Olympics, such as Ludwig Hohlwein’s, from the 1936 Olympics at Garmisch- Partenkirchen, in Germany, in which the raised hand of a skier resembles a Nazi salute. Travel agencies, from France to Norway and New Hampshire, use posters to advertise their winter holiday packages. Ski resorts, like Stowe, have also used the services of famous graphic designers, such as Sascha Maurer who created the classic Stowe logo, used to this day. As poster art is continuously improving, the leaders of the genre are appearing on the front line. Roger Brodrs from the 20s and early 30s created a strong art deco style. When Herbert Matter was designing posters in 1930, photomontage was in fashion. His imagescollages, depicting a face, a ski glove or a cable car, were the core of his design. The technique developed and posters became smarter in the 40s, when the artist from Bauhaus, Herbert Bayer, turned his attention to Aspen and used bold graphics. These posters are rare – and collectible – because their role, as it was designed, was ephemeral. They were made to hang in train stations, kiosks and facades of buildings. The fact that so many have survived remains a surprise. Mason Beekley, founder of the International Skiing History Association and a passionate collector of ski memorabilia, has helped expand this market. But why would someone buy and mostly collect a ski poster? Is it a serious art? «Because unlike paintings and sculptures, specialists say, you can buy a poster for 500 dollars». Prices usually vary from 400 dollars (the poster of Killy United) to 1,500 dollars (the «Le Hohwald», which depicts a skier in Alsace, in France). Of course you can pay much more. Hohlwein’s posters on the 1936 Winter Olympics are sold usually for 3,000 dollars, while more recently the works of German artist, Carl Kunst, such as the «Bazar Nurnberg», can reach 6,000 dollars. In the 1912 «Nurnberg» poster (an ad for a Berlin sports gear manufacturer), a skier is bending in order to adjust his fixtures. «What makes you want to possess this poster is that the image is broad. The beauty of the design, its rarity, the conditions and the setting also play a role. Lately we have noticed a return to quality. Large icons sell, » state the specialists. Some dealers put it more bluntly. «Beauty is expensive, ugly is cheap. People buy them because of their subject theme, because they depict a resort they know or one where they had a romance». Posters portraying Aspen and Sun Valley are very popular, because the more known a resort is, the higher the price. Besides, there are more rich people who own chalets in Stowe than in Butternut. Naturally, no one guarantees that the 1950 Peter Ewart poster, made for the Canadian Pacific Railway, with a starting price of 1,000 dollars, will not sell at 2,500. «The worse place for an amateur to start buying is a publicised auction», says Lowry. «Prices can skyrocket. You get drawn into it and give a small fortune for something you would have found for half price in the market». For their protection, poster aficionados should concentrate on trading with dealers, visit ski museums and read auction catalogues. Nonetheless, the issue here is that those who are really interested in this elusive and less «artistic» genre, as it has been described, are as passionate as those who collect rare works of art!

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