Winter Olympics: Olympic Medal Designer Corrine Hunt (Interview)

“Olaka Iku Da Nala.”

So reads the website of Corrine Hunt, co-designer of the Olympic and Paralympic Medals for the 2010 Vancouver BC Olympic Games. Translated as “a really good day,” the phrase suits as a description of Hunt’s outlook even as her art takes center stage, over and over again throughout the Olympics.

Having received an Olympic torch as a birthday gift from a friend who carried it as part of the Canadian procession, Hunt has a bond to these games that will impact hundreds of athletes and inspire millions of people around the world. Her enthusiasm is infectious, but her humility is what makes her so easy to talk to. When talking about which Games she wants to see most she starts with speedskating, then ice hockey, and finally admits that all of the skiing events fascinate her as well.

Unfortunately, Hunt won’t be seeing as much of the Games as she’d like; she’s part of the Aboriginal Artisan Village with other artists from across Canada, who are selling their art to the gathering of nations in Vancouver. But she still had time to chat with Hollywood Jesus about her art, and the way it tells a greater story.

VANOC (Vancouver Organizing Committee) asked over three hundred artists to submit their proposal, Hunt said, and forty-eight submitted designs. “They shortlisted eight people and I was one of them. The initial process didn’t include design concepts but only our body of work.”

Hunt’s body of work began with the heritage of her First Nations status as a Komoyue and a Tlingit. The government grants Canadians like her Indian status, but she’s often referred to as an Aboriginal artist. Her diverse talents and interests led her off a commercial fishing boat and into anthropology. Now she says she wants to be a golf instructor. But she’s always been an artist.

“Many of my family members are artists,” Hunt says, “it’s part of our culture and part of who we are. I love art, I love modern art, traditional art, design. It’s part of who I am.”

But that’s only a means for Hunt to tell stories, and it’s the stories that drive her life and her art.

“I think storytelling is part of everybody’s life; it comes from different places. Whatever the religion or spirituality is that what we relate to, it’s about how we relate to our humanity or nature. We’re all struggling to figure out how we’ll survive; not to sound too utopian, but I love sitting and talking about what clients believe in or what our core values are. Respect for each other is paramount to what I do.”

That work is evident in the designs of the Olympic medals, but it’s apparent that Hunt’s work is always art and always tied to community. She’s been working on a project for a community in Ontario. “They saw the medal design and the idea of the orca. I’m working on a totem pole that’s called a community project,” said Hunt. “We rely on each other, play with each other, and that story will tell how we respect our environment and how the community itself will be designed. It’s not a cedar totem pole but it tells its story.”

But a totem pole?

“One of the problems is that the totem pole is seen in a pre-contact, pre-white man model. Although our culture travels with me in the modern world, I live outside my village because I live in Vancouver. We have to evolve to survive. That people see us as evolving and changing,” Hunt said.

Always teaching, always patient, Hunt takes the time to explain to an outsider, a novice to her art and her heritage, what it means to respect the story and translate it into terms that affect the world we live in.

“Last night, I met some athletes who had won at previous games, and they felt like there was something emotional in these medals that hadn’t been there before. Leo Ostbaum [the late architect of the Games] wanted to give the athletes something more, and he pushed the design in his part as the architect. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

These medals, 615 Olympic and 399 Paralympic medals, will each weigh more than a pound, and their undulating design sets them apart from anything that came before. Hunt’s pride in her work is obvious as she explains the mentality that went into their design.

“If you look at the channel for the orca, it’s in four pieces,” said Hunt. “I wanted to relate the athlete to the Games, and relate the athletes to the medals. Two of the panels have the orca head representing the athletes, and the other two have abstract orca bodies, and the five rings, which represent the five continents and Olympic rings.

“No athlete stands alone.”

At the same time, the Paralympic medals had quite a special meaning for Hunt. The same uncle who taught her to engrave metal is also a paraplegic, so it made these medals much more personal. “The raven in our culture is this wonderfully creative creature, accepting all of those things that are in us: the good, the bad, the mischievous. It’s based on a totem pole and the raven rising above the challenges and the obstacles, good or bad.

“I had looked at past medals, and wanted to make sure that the Paralympic medals were equal in size, beauty and shape. They are equal to the Olympic medal.”

Hunt’s impact on the medals is unique, but so was the partnership that led to their design. For the first time in anyone’s memory, two artists were asked if they would work together. “We didn’t know each other before we were chosen and early on they asked us if we would be interested in collaboration,” Hunt said. “Leo wanted to have a creative explosion from different areas; Omar [Arbel] was born in Jerusalem and moved to Canada when he was eighteen. Putting us together, we had to figure out what our purpose was. I guess I was supposed to be the storyteller, and Omar is more about the form. It was pretty seamless once we started working together, and really learned a lot from each other.

“We worked on how it would be shown, the shape of the medal, the undulating piece, and we modified it in the end to what it would look like. It’s not always easy collaborating but Leo really put that together, and really opened it up to make it quite unique.”

It should come as no surprise that this opportunity has opened the doors for more storytelling. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg has asked her to create a poster around the phrase being used from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “everyone has a right.”

Hunt said hers will read “everyone has a right to be a raven now and then, and color outside the lines.” She adds, “It’s wonderful to be connected to something like that.”

Hunt’s connection with our site prompted a brief but deep discussion about what it meant to be of Jesus and engaged with Hollywood. Hunt had found beauty in the pursuit of Jesus before, through her mother, the most beautiful person she’s ever known, but our engaging culture seemed puzzling. We agreed that our encounter with our story as it intersected with the story of others was the place where we could grow, and our mutual desire to see peace reign was a standard we could build on. Staying faithful to the respect which her heritage teaches is crucial to Hunt, and it requires that she be open to the new learning experiences presented to her.

“I sort of followed the Jesus Seminar,” Hunt said. “Karen Armstrong won an award from Ted.com and they granted a wish. Armstrong’s idea for this Charter for Compassion crosses all of our spirituality and religion and we need to be the compassion entity. It’s a special opportunity, and we lay our lives down in that way and we can make this journey.”

Our paths diverged here, as Hunt was called away to more conversation in Vancouver, leaving the door open for further discussion around orcas, ravens, and the like. It’s fascinating, really, to consider who we are and what we’re meant to be. More and more, the world of sports provides us the opportunity to reach out to others, to make contact, and to share our compassion, and our passions. We strive for that goal, and we can’t ever give up.

It’s a really good day, isn’t it? You’re not alone, the sun keeps rising. Embrace the sunshine.

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About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at ChristianCinema.com, Cinapse.co, and the brand new ScreenFish.net.
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