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Local artist immortalizes past Olympians

Source: Western Wheel
Date: July 8, 2005
Author: John Barlow

Turner Valley artist Gordon Milne is making his dream come true while immortalizing former Canadian Olympians.

Milne has entered a unique partnership with the Canadian Sport Centre (CSC) in Calgary to help raise funds for Canadian amateur athletes while at the same time giving some well deserved notoriety to past Canadian Olympic heroes.

"I am thrilled all to pieces to even be associated with these people," said Milne during an interview at his Turner Valley home. "The relationship between the arts and sport seems like a big gap, but really, they are very similar."

The CSC project will endeavour to show just how similar they are.

Milne has been commissioned to complete between 15 and 20 portraits of former Canadian Olympians. The huge portraits (62 inches by 48 inches) will be purchased by corporations for $15,000 and the funds will go to support Canadian amateur athletes. Once the collection is complete, the corporations will donate the portraits back to CSC and the complete collection will tour Canada. In addition, it is hoped the project will be featured at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The first four portraits will be unveiled at a special media conference today (Wednesday) at Banker's Hall in Calgary.

"This is a really special, classy program, " said Colin Young of CSC. "It is art work that is so unique."

Milne's portraits are not sports pictures.

They offer a vibrant insight into the athlete's personality, the athlete's soul - a boxer's dark desires or a speed skater's fiery passion.

Milne admits, he is not a realist.

"I have always been attracted to stained glass," he said of his unmistakable works. "I break the person down into shapes and colour and every colour reflects off the colour next to it. It is manipulating colour and if it all works it gives the portrait a real brilliance and captures the personality of the person I am painting."

Milne idolized Canada's world class amateur athletes and has always been impressed by their commitment and dedication.

A few years ago Milne approached boxer Willie DeWitt about doing a portrait of the Olympic silver medalist. Once it was complete, DeWitt was so impressed he suggested Milne do other athletes and spoke to his friend decathlete Michael Smith.

"Gordon Milne's paintings of Canadian athletes evoke such positive memories by capturing the essence and personalities of his subjects," said DeWitt on the CSC website.

After completing a portrait of DeWitt and garnering the support of Smith, the project began to blossom and CSC jumped on board.

"We liked Gordon's passion and he likes authentic Olympians - they have made an impact on him," said Young.

To date, Milne has completed four portraits including DeWitt, Smith, Silken Laumann and Catriona Lemay Doan.

"Everyone recognizes the merit of this project," commented Young. "This is an opportunity to grab a piece of history. This is a tribute to these athletes and a good reminder to people who these athletes are."

One of the reasons Milne was so passionate about the project was an opportunity to praise some of Canada's forgotten athletic heroes through his art.

"In Canada people don't even know who these people are," said Milne with a hint of frustration in his voice.

"If they were American they would be heroes. These athletes have done incredible things and they get little recognition - people forget.

"What is frustrating is we cry for more podium finishes (at the Olympics), but we don't even remember those who already have."

Three-time Olympian Diane Jones Konihowski said Milne's artwork will shine a light on the achievements of Canada's past Olympians.

"Canadian artist Gordon Milne has blended his passion for athletic achievement with his passion for creating works of art by celebrating Olympic excellence through his own unique and colourful paintings of Canadian athletes," she said. "The cause is worthy - the portrait is priceless."

A list of potential subjects for future portraits has been established and it does not include the likes of Jarome Iginla, Mario Lemieux or Steve Nash.

Young and Milne both said the agonized over the list of athletes, but agreed they wanted to focus on true Olympic athletes.

Young said if a corporate sponsor requested a portrait of Iginla they would not say no, but they are hoping to promote amateur athletics.

The list includes Kurt Browning, Ken Read, Gaeten Boucher, Mark Tewksbury, Ian Miller, Miriam Bedard, Donovan Bailey and several others.

"The Crazy Canucks rode around Europe in VW bus going as fast as they could," said Milne. "Canadians didn't even know who they were, but the rest of the world did."

Through Milne's artwork Canadians will be given a refreshing insight into Canada's past Olympic heroes.

To view the collection visit www.canadiansportcentre.com/heroes