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BSU artist sculpts Sun Valley medalists

Posted at 1:47 PM, Mar 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-21 15:47:11-04

Boise State University artist-in-residence Benjamin Victor has finished the first clay model of what officials say will become a series of larger-than-life bronze statues honoring six female Olympic medalists who lived, worked and trained in Sun Valley.

The first model is of Gretchen Fraser (pictured), who became the first American — male or female — to win a gold medal in alpine skiing in the 1948 Winter Olympics. Victor will unveil his clay model of Fraser at 4:30 p.m. March 24 in the Ketchum town square during the opening ceremony of the 2016 U.S. Alpine National Championships. The finished bronze of Fraser will be cast from this model later this year, according to a BSU news release.

“When you think about how remarkable it is to have this many standout Olympic athletes all being from this area, a project like this is long overdue,” Victor said. “I’m honored to be able to work on it.”

The sculpture of Fraser stands smiling widely, holding her skis, with her trademark braids visible. Victor said he worked from a photo of Fraser on the mountain and chose the pose because many remember Fraser as a teacher and mentor, as well as a world-class skier.

In fact, Fraser mentored fellow Olympians Susie Corrock, Christin Cooper and Picabo Street, en route to their medals. Victor will eventually create larger-than-life statues of all six female Sun Valley-based Winter Olympic medalists -– including Fraser, Street, Cooper, Corrock, Kaitlyn Farrington and Muffy Davis. The sculptures eventually will be installed at the base of Bald Mountain in what will be known as Champion Row.

“Gretchen is, of course, the place to start,” said Cooper. “She was a great friend and mentor in my early years. I know the statue will shine with her warmth and integrity.” Cooper, an alpine skiing medalist, is hosting the Alpine National Championship opening ceremony.  

The project was brainstormed and the statues were commissioned after the U.S. Olympic Committee designated the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation as an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for all five snow sports -– alpine, cross country, freestyle, freeskiing and snowboard -– in 2015.

The Starting Gate Foundation was formed with the Olympic sculptures as its flagship project.  

“This is the first monument of its size dedicated to female athletes anywhere in the world,” said Brian Barsotti, founder and president of the foundation. “It’s incredibly unique to have six medalists, all women, all of whom made the valley their home base for training. Sun Valley has this incredible history and no one’s really celebrated it until now.”

“My goal is to create this monumental image of women who worked hard,” Victor said. “Girls like my daughter will be able to go and literally look up to these women, know they put in the training and the hard work, and realize that being the best isn’t such a crazy dream. That’s the kind of power an entire row of champions can have.”

Victor is currently an artist in residence and professor of the practice at Boise State. He operates out of the Benjamin Victor Gallery, a 7,500-square-foot gallery and interactive space on campus where students can learn from a living master, and the general public is welcome to peruse towering nine-foot-tall bronze and marble sculptures and larger-than-life busts, as well as works in progress and at least 15 priceless clay originals from which bronze versions of Victor’s most famous sculptures are cast.

At age 26, Victor became the youngest artist ever to have a sculpture in the nation’s foremost collection, the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. Nine years later, he became the only living artist to have two works in Statuary Hall (the priceless clay original of one of these works is now on display in the gallery).