Al Oerter’s art museum opens, and Olympians give their support

Masters thrower Ed Burke sent a note to his Olympian friends and CC’d a copy to me (an honor in itself). Ed writes about the opening of Al Oerter’s Art of the Olympians Museum in Fort Myers, Florida:  “Olympians,  this is a project begun by Al Oerter and is being carried through to fruition by his wife of 25 years, Cathy.   It honors the artistic talents of Olympians as it engages youth in the essence of Olympism. Got talent?  Got energy? Want to display your work with your peers of the Olympiads? Contact Cathy Oerter.” Roald Bradstock, the British Olympian and artist, also was present.  He wrote me:  “Museum is really beautiful. It is a shame Al is no longer here to see the realization of his dream.” The museum Web site is gorgeous, too.

Here’s the story, in case the link goes dark:

Downtown Fort Myers museum shows off Olympian art

Showcase set to open today

Mind. Body. Spirit.

In ancient times, The Olympics championed that lofty, well-rounded ideal. Competitors strived for excellence in sports, but also in music, poetry and art. The tradition continued when the modern Olympics started in 1896.

Fast forward to 2010 and the upcoming winter Olympics, and you won’t find any gold medals handed out for painting or calligraphy.

Still, that doesn’t mean Olympians don’t strive for excellence outside of the sports arena.

The new Art of the Olympians museum wants to show visitors that the mind-body-spirit ideal is alive and well and on display here in Fort Myers.

“The Greeks had it right,” says museum co-founder Cathy Oerter. “They wanted to create the perfect citizen.”

The downtown Fort Myers museum opens today in the former City Pier Building with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The event features cocktails, dancing performances and special guests such as Olympic javelin thrower Roald Bradstock.

The museum and gallery features paintings, sculpture, photos and other art by Olympians from the United States, Italy, Australia, Puerto Rico and other countries.

Art of the Olympians was the dream of Oerter’s late husband, Olympics discus champion Al Oerter, who died in 2007 after working on the project for about two years.

In the early days, Oerter’s famous name opened many doors for the museum project – including the rare right to use the Olympics logo and sell Olympics merchandise. He also helped pull in paintings, sculpture and other artwork by major athletes such as sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner and ice skater Peggy Fleming.

Organizers and the United States Olympic Committee claim the museum could generate $25 million for the Southwest Florida economy every year. That would come largely through visiting Olympics fans, Olympians and Olympic governing bodies from more than 200 countries.

Lydia Black, director of the Alliance for the Arts, certainly thinks the museum could be a big national and international draw – especially when it gets permission to fly the Olympic flag over the Caloosahatchee River.

“It will be a symbol of what they can offer,” Black says. “Those rings represent a global community.”

Organizers originally planned a $1.8 million museum, but they’ve since scaled that back (the museum may eventually move elsewhere in downtown Fort Myers). They spent about $500,000 renovating the new building, according to local decathlon and bobsled champion Liston Bochette III.

The museum is housed in the white-and-beige City Pier Building across from Harborside Event Center. Painted ribbons ring the building in Olympics colors.

Organizers are calling this a “soft opening” – although all the art and most other features are already up and running. A grand opening will follow sometime this spring.

Between now and then, organizers plan to work out details of upcoming art shows, school programs, educational programs and guest speakers (Olympic athletes will speak there from time to time).

Still to come, for example, is a motion-activated audio system that lets people hear prerecorded narration when they step in front of artwork.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t already plenty to impress at the museum – particularly in the upstairs art gallery loaded with Olympian art. The room’s modern design features ambient and track lighting, clean lines and a stunning view of the Caloosahatchee River.

Downstairs, you’ll find a coffee shop, a small Olympics memorabilia museum, a multipurpose room and a gift shop.

Cathy Oerter says she and other organizers wanted the museum to be impressive.

“That was Al’s hope,” Oerter says. “That this would be as Olympic an experience as possible.”

Her husband isn’t around to see his idea come to fruition, but Cathy Oerter says he’d be pleased.

The project has taken four years to complete, she says, and sometimes it’s hard to believe it’s finally here.

“It’s a happy time,” Oerter says. “Every time I walk in the door, I smile.”

• What: Opening of the Art of the Olympians museum
• When: Reception and ribbon cutting from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday
• Where: The former City Pier Building, 1300 Hendry Street, downtown Fort Myers
• Admission: $8 (suggested), $4 for children
• Info: Call 332-5055 or go to

The art and the Olympians
The new museum features art by 20 Olympians – and more art is being added all the time.
You’ll find sculptures by Italian judo champ Emanuela Pierantozzi. Photographs by Australian swimming champion Shane Gould. Paintings by U.S. sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner and ice skater Peggy Fleming.
Sometimes – but not always – there are striking connections between the sport and the art.
Late discus thrower Al Oerter, for example, often used a discus to fling paint onto the canvas. The act mimicked the explosive nature of his sport, says wife Cathy Oerter.
“It was an explosion of color,” Oerter says.
Swiss fencer Jean-Blaise Evequoz paints like he fences. “He is a quick painter,” Oerter says. “And in fencing, he is very, very quick.”
Gould – go figure – favors underwater photography. And U.S. luge champ Cameron Myler brings the feeling of speed to her own photos.
“Her images are blurry,” Oerter says. “She goes so fast, that’s how she sees the world.”

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February 4, 2010

7 Responses

  1. Rick Riddle - February 4, 2010

    Very interesting report, good work and thank you for sharing this one.

  2. Sue Deppe, MD - February 4, 2010

    Thanks for featuring this story.

    Cathy Carroll Oerter was an All-American sprinter/long jumper who helped pioneer women’s track and field at Iowa State University in the early 1970’s. I had the pleasure of running on a club relay team with her at the Wichita USTFF nationals in 1973.

    Way to go, Cathy!

    Sue Deppe

  3. Jerry Smartt - February 4, 2010

    As a traveling member of the 1956 Olympic team, 1st alternate at 10,000 meters, I got to know Al. We then made the trip to Moscow in 1958 as members of the 1st T&F meet against the Russians. Al was one class act. Gone too soon. Nothing fair about that. Enjoy every moment, kids. Jerry

  4. James E. Oglesby,M.D. - February 10, 2010

    Al was an inspiration to all throwers, young and old. He exhibited the pentultimate example of never giving up, even in the face of adversity. Mac Wilkins summed it up with his comment,”it’s the attitude”—Al Oerter was personification of positive “attitude”. I think this is really great, this museum, it brings to light that famous “jocks” aren’t “dumb jocks”, but real people with many talents, often exciting artistic talents that exceed anyone’s expectations. Kudos, Cheers, Great Stuff, Congratulations to all involved in Al’s dream and continued presence. Jim Oglesby

  5. Tina Nymon - January 24, 2011

    Fond memories of (you Cathy)and Al. So sorry we lost touch wishing you the best Cathy. He was a very unique and wonderul human being. We are admiring Al’s art. Jennifer Hardy-Rhinhart is with me on the phone. Don’t know if you remember our visit to West Islip. Much has changed for all, but always for the better; as a wonderful art teacher once taught me. Al lives on along with others we have lost along the way, if we dare to allow ourselves to transcend from the physical confines of this world, we can be with them as they are still with us. Do you remember what you taught me Cathy? “There’s No Such Place as Faraway”. You opened my heart and now I believe and see with all of my heart. Missing you, Tina Mejia

  6. David Tatlock - March 24, 2013

    Fort Myers should hep

  7. Pam Carriker - January 27, 2015

    Cathy Carroll was my high school art teacher and I’d love to be able to contact her. I’ve made contact with some of her other students in the mixed media art community and we have talked about her influence in doing what we do today.

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