The Art of Wrestling by Paul Widerman
NYS Champion ’77, ’78
Co-Captain Harvard ’82,’83
National Olympic Qualifying Tour Champ ’84
Olympic Freestyle Team First Alternate ’84
Cuba, Cerro Pelado Champion ’84
Maccabiah Games Champion ’81, ’85
ABOUT THE ART
Dear Friends in Wrestling:
Throughout history most cultures engaged in wrestling for sport. Documenting this throughout the ages, artists have created an “Art History” which has depicted the wrestling in each culture.
The Art of Wrestling:
Yes. The pun is intentional. My guess is there are two reasons wrestlers are so passionate about our sport. The first is wrestling is radically participatory, it is for EVERYBODY. Perhaps if we had to reduce our ethos to one core value it would be: The purity of your effort and how hard you work. After that, everything falls into place. In the end there is no room for ego, vanity, negativity, giving up, stereotyping, nor judgment of others. We honor hard work.
The other reason wrestlers love wrestling:
It gives everyone the opportunity to express themselves as artists from the depth of their being, using yourself as the medium. So, when a visual artist captures our sport like Nancy’s work in this collection, it resonates and captures something we know and honor.
I first became interested in the Art History of our sport in college and wrote two lengthy term papers on the topic.
For the younger wrestlers reading this, imagine this was a time when there was NO internet, NO cell phones. Some of my knowledge was passed down to me verbally in the gym from greats like Jim Peckham. My other sources were esoteric books that were very hard to find. I would like to reference all of my sources, but some of this is coming from memory and I hope you will take up the gauntlet, adding your research on our Facebook page.
For example, in 1981, I made my way to Greece carrying a “letter of reference” from Michael Poliakoff, who was then a Professor of Greek and Latin studies at Wellesley College. I took the letter to the National Archaeological Museum, Athens which I knew had the largest collection of vase paintings depicting wrestling. The museum director thus kindly allowed me access to the archives closed to the public. I was allowed to view the vases that were not on view and in storage. Unbeknownst to many people, these paintings often depicted four people.
There were the two wrestlers and the referee who often had a staff; the 4th person was a flute player. The implication being that the great wrestlers should strive to make their technique as beautiful and harmonious as the music.
Today, anyone can go online and see these images from the comfort of a laptop.
So, from the drawings in the tombs of Beni-Hasan tomb 15 in Egypt (circa 2000 BC), to the vase paintings and sculpture in ancient Greece, there is a history of wrestling art. In Greece, wrestling was considered the greatest mind/body activity to develop an individual.
Great wrestlers include the philosophers Aristotle, Plato and Socrates who were known to train and teach at the Palestra, or Wrestling School.
And, in the course of US history our wrestling community includes President Abraham Lincoln; and my college teammate, the host of the new “Cosmos” series, renowned astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Fast forward: I first saw Nancy Ostrovsky paint live in 1986 at “The Joy of Movement” center in Cambridge, MA. She was part of a performance called The People’s Room.
At the time, I was the assistant wrestling coach at Harvard University and still competing for USA Wrestling. I was spellbound. She clearly was in the same “psychological zone of peak performance” being discussed across the board in athletics.
All wrestlers strive to be in this state. It is clearly observable in our best competitors, achievable in competition only after years of training. What struck me was seeing Nancy in the zone channeling the music, the audience, and the ambiance of the room — while creating a painting in this intensely relaxed and focused state.
Nancy Ostrovsky and I have collaborated over the past 25 years to create the paintings on this website. It is our desire to create history by continuing the tradition of capturing “The Art of Wrestling” in today’s modern era of the sport.
Nancy’s Uffizi Wrestlers was her first Wrestling Painting (1992). She did it spontaneously without any input nor suggestion from me. I began giving away reproductions to friends. One of the first posters went to Dave Schultz who loved it. In 1995, on a trip to Belarus to compete, Dave framed a copy and gave it away as a gift to our hosts at the post-competition banquet.
(Here’s the back story of what happened and a testament to Dave’s inimitable style: We had finished competing and Dave wanted a frame for the Uffizi Wrestlers. We were in rural Belarus, miles from a store, and we did not have a car. Dave had to improvise. So, he discretely “lifted” a white framed manuscript which hung on a wall in the hotel lobby. None of us knew it at the time, except Dave of course; but these were the “Hotel rules”. Dave proceeded to open the frame, turn around the manuscript, and matted the painting. This left the rules on the back of the frame. As Dave duly noted later, “None of the rules said: Don’t Steal These Rules.” The recipient Russian coaching staff LOVED the painting…and Dave’s ingenuity. We were relieved.).
The wrestling community responded strongly encouraging Nancy to keep painting. At that point I began to collaborate with her suggesting particular positions, techniques and people. Inspired, Nancy has done more than 30 paintings. In her unique style, we amassed a body of work that captures various techniques, and the emotional and physical intensity of our sport. We also have action portraits of many of our current great Champions.
Before there was an internet, we sold reproductions through the Wrestling One Catalog which also featured a new painting each year as the cover art.
This website gives us the opportunity to show the paintings as a group placing them in the history of the art of wrestling; and offer signed reproductions to everyone.
We are thrilled to have the support of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame to exhibit the paintings for the first time at the 2016 NCAA Wrestling Tournament at Madison Square Garden in NYC.
There is an international camaraderie in the sport of wrestling with transcendental universal values. Examples from the US community are: Dan Gable, (1972 Olympic Champion), Rick Saunders (1972 Olympic Silver Medalist), Jim Peckham (1956 Olympian and 1972 Olympic Coach) and Dave Schultz (World and Olympic Champion). All four men made friends all over the world.
Dave Schultz could speak Russian and was probably better known in the Soviet Union where they nick named him “the computer” and “sly fox”. Dave forged friendships at a time when diplomatic ties were sparse, and Americans were not allowed to travel behind the “Iron Curtain.” The sport of Wrestling transcends a person’s race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic background, size and shape.
Wrestling is not skin deep. Real wrestlers care about the effort you make, how you develop your potential, the accomplishments you achieve in competition. Wrestlers value your independence and effort in forging–your mind, body and spirit.
Most Wrestlers feel we could venture into any country in the world; and, in three phone calls have a place to work out and place to stay. And, most of us feel we could do that in countries considered at odds to the USA politically: Iran, Russia, Cuba. This is a time in history when the values inherent in wrestling are more important than ever.
Right now we are seeing childhood obesity reaching epidemic proportions, young adults on antidepressants, and youth violence on a level never seen before. In the wrestling community, we have tools to forge young people into healthy, productive adults with values. It is up to us to educate the general public, and young people, on the depth of “real” wrestling.
I was lucky to be coached by some of our greats: Lou Giani, (Olympian and “The Winningest High School Coach in NY History), Jim Peckham (Olympian and Olympic Coach), and Dan Gable (Olympic Champion and renowned Iowa and Olympic Coach). These men changed my life and the lives of countless others. They teach people to dream…and work harder than what one imagines possible.
Across the country there are other great coaches, less well known, who earn little for their time. They have a dramatic affect on the young people they coach. As Coach Gable said, “America needs wrestling now more than ever.” Wrestling gives young people a place to use all of their energy and aggression constructively. A place to know themselves. A place to know and respect others. A place to learn the humility that comes with hard work and competence.
Please help us keep wrestling ALIVE!
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and your motivational walls!
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