Specialist Selections: Nicholas Lowry’s Favorite American Ski Posters
As a skier (in all fairness I was an avid skier in my youth and now fondly recall those carefree winter excursions, as I sit behind my desk with my aging knees), a fervent poster connoisseur and specialist, it is always thrilling to come across wonderful ski posters – images that so appealingly combine two of my life interests. A fair amount has been written about the best European ski posters, but there were also a lot of really wonderful American posters, and the following represent my 12 all-time favorites. They are not necessarily the most expensive, nor the rarest, but posters that in one way or another really caught my professional and personal fancy.
This small poster (it measures only 20 inches high by 14 inches wide) isn’t advertising a ski resort or any form of tourism, it is promoting a popular magazine of the time. It is, in my opinion, the earliest American poster to depict skiing. It may in fact be the earliest ski poster from anywhere in the world. Every aspect of the woman’s ski outfit is amusing in its impracticality. The single pole was used in the early days of the sport.
This is one of the great American ski posters. The motif of skiers spelling out the names of resorts or other messages in the snow has been often used, but Sascha Maurer, who was born in and studied in Germany, brings much of the European design sensibility to this image.
In addition to being a world class designer, Maurer was also an avid skier. His love for the sport is apparent in many of his posters. Maurer spent many years working for the New Haven Railroad and designed more than a dozen posters for them, many of which advertised using the railroad to go skiing. Personally I find the dynamism of this poster so strong that it keeps the viewer from noticing that the man is skiing in a tie.
The Dartmouth Winter Carnival may well be the longest standing winter celebration in America. It is certainly the event which has produced the largest and most important legacy of ski posters in the United States. I love the similarity between this poster and the previous example. And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I really am not sure which one of these came first.
The 1932 games in Lake Placid, NY were the first time the Winter Olympics had been held in America. Unfortunately it was held during the Depression, and not every country was able to send a full (and fully equipped) team. Posters quite often dovetail fascinatingly with history and I am always excited to discover interesting historical information that helps me appreciate posters not just as attractive images, but as important historical documents.
This poster holds a very warm place in my heart. Not only is it an exquisite Art Deco image, but one of the first times I was broadcast on Antiques Roadshow was when the artist’s granddaughter came in with a collection of his works, including this poster.
One of two posters the artist designed to promote winter sports in New Hampshire. This poster not only boasts a very dramatic angle, but also the charming detail of the designs on the woman’s vest. It should be pointed out that people collect ski posters for a number of reasons: not only for the locations being advertised but also for the equipment and fashions that are depicted. This poster is also the sister-image to another ski poster in our upcoming auction.
Ski posters were by no means only relegated to the American Northeast. Out West, the resort that relied the most heavily on poster advertising was Sun Valley. This is no surprise as the resort was built by the railroad company (it opened in 1936) as a place for travelers to stop on their way out West. Railroad companies have used posters for promotion since the 1880s, so they would naturally gravitate towards that medium to promote the newest jewel in their crown.
Posters for Sun Valley were produced by the Union Pacific Railroad, which would imply that quite a number would have been printed to hang in stations and ticket offices all up and down their line. However, in many cases only a very small handful of each poster exists. Such is the case with this image, and the other two Sun Valleyposters featured here. Their beauty and rarity ensure that they are always very popular among both collectors and institutions seeking to acquire them. Another copy of this poster is available in our upcoming auction.
Another of the very rare Sun Valley posters. True railroad buffs will recognize that the logo which appears on all three of these Sun Valley posters is the logo the Union Pacific used in the mid to late 1930s.
The great Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer immigrated to America and ultimately settled in Aspen, Colorado. He designed two posters for the resort. He is one of the most famous artists to have ever designed a ski poster in America and this poster beautifully showcases the photomontage technique that he mastered in Europe.
For a look at more chic ski posters, peruse the catalogue for our February 11, 2016 auction of Vintage Posters.