Walter Winans: Art Was An Olympic Discipline? The Little Known Fact Of Olympic Art Competitions

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When you think of the  Olympics, you might think of the chariot races in Greek history, or  the prestigious show jumping…maybe even the crime ridden Rio where people live in cardboard boxes, where the 2016 Summer Olympics is happening now. Though, I doubt that you know of a little known fact of this legendary event: Art was an Olympic discipline in they early 1900’s. Yep, you read that right. Sportsmen/women who were also artists received medals for painting and sculpture.

Between the years of 1912 and 1948, sculptors, painters,  architects, writers, and musicians participated at the real Olympic Games. According to the New York Times’ 2010 article,  the founder of the IOC ( International Olympic Committee) Baron Pierre de Coubertin, thought that “sports and the arts were inextricably linked.”

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Walter Winans, Olympic Gold Medalist in the Sculpture category and Silver Medalist in the Shooting Category, 1912.

“He was raised and educated classically, and he was particularly impressed with the idea of what it meant to be a true Olympian—someone who was not only athletic, but skilled in music and literature,” Richard Stanton, author of The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions, told Smithsonian Magazine. “He felt that in order to recreate the events in modern times, it would be incomplete to not include some aspect of the arts.”

Unfortunately, the art disciplines ended in 1948 due to the lacking interest, and since the art had to feature the Olympic sports. People got tired of seeing and painting the same things over and over again. The art medals were removed from the official Olympic records and the art events were demoted to a exhibition running for the duration of the games.

The reason that the famed artists of that time didn’t compete in the Olympics? Probably because of the  fact that “professional” artists were discouraged from competing in the Olympics due to the Games’ amateur status requirement, prohibiting paid  “professional” artists and athletes from participating. I found this interesting article about this subject.

Horses Ruled In The First Sculpture Discipline At The Olympics

In Stockholm (Capital of Sweden) in 1912, Walter Winans’ “An American Trotter” stole the show, winning a gold medal for sculpture in the first art event. Walter Winans was the only Olympian to win both art and sporting medals at the Olympics–the sculpture category earned him a gold medal and the shooting event “Team Running Deer—Single Shot” earned a silver.

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“An American Trotter” by Walter Winmans

Winmans parents were Americans, though they lived in  St. Petersburg, Russian Empire where his father was construction worker. Walter was born on April 5, 1852. He lived in St. Petersburg until the he was 18,  taking the oath of allegiance at the US Embassy before leaving for Kent, England to live. He was an avid sportsman, who had shooting rights to nearly  250,000 acres [≈ Hong Kong]  in the Highlands of Scotland. His favorite firearm was the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. He won a gold metal in the 1908  Olympics, then returned to the Olympics in 1912 for both shooting and art fields. He also wrote several books about shooting in his lifetime.

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He was also a horseman and in 1910, he sent several horses to the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden in New York City. He died in Parsloes Park, Dagenham, Essex on 12 August 1920.

When you are watching the Olympics, think about what artists would have represented your country. Would you ever want to see the art come back as a sport?

**Since it’s summer, I will not be sticking to my usual posting routine. There will be two articles every week, but not necessarily on Tuesday on Friday! Want to have updates on the latest equine art news? Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!

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