The Aspen X Games kick off today at Buttermilk, the 19th year that the world’s legends and rising stars of skiing and snowboarding (and snowmobiling, too) gather in a celebration of youth culture and extreme on-mountain feats. For the top athletes who make the podium, they will receive a medal as unique and fresh as the event itself — a hand crafted work of art created by Ridgway’s Lisa Issenberg.
Formed in 2012, Issenberg’s design studio is called Kiitella (Finnish for thank, praise, and applaud). An artist with a vast resume that includes everything from jewelry to large-scale architectural installations, Issenberg found her niche as an award-maker and it began in Telluride with Mountainfilm.
“Telluride paved the way with the opportunities in the from of exciting commissions, and the trust that I’ll do a good job and represent the organization/town in style,” she said.
Her design for the X Games’ round medals is a simple X with a cutout that represents the Maroon Bells. The source materials are 90 percent recycled and Issenberg uses a nesting process to minimize waste. Each medal is imbued with not only her skill, but also her self.
“My head, hand and heart are infused in, and float away with, each piece,” Issenberg said. “I’m reminded of a quote by Herbert Bayer, the Austrian born multi-disciplined artist/designer, and teacher from the Bauhaus. ‘It should be remembered that the total personality is involved in the creative process. It is not performed by the skilled hand alone, not conducted by the intellect alone, but by a unified process in which head, heart, and hand play a simultaneous role.’”
Her tumble into creating awards and for outstanding accomplishment, be it for film, athletics, entrepreneurs or environmentalists, has been satisfying and fruitful. From her first commission for Mountainfilm’s festival-capping awards, her work expanded into recognition walls and installations such as the metal leaves that adorn the lobby wall of the Michael D. Palm Theatre.
“The niche of recognition was so enjoyable on all fronts,” she said. “Creating work that celebrates the accomplishments, victories, humanity and philanthropy of others ... and you are a piece of that recognition or gratitude through your art. The award is a small token of the great honor.”
Founding Kiitella was a way to bring together numerous elements to create a whole. Her love of living in and adventuring in the mountains, for design and the challenge of satisfying each client’s specific needs, for “the art part — digging my hands in,” and for the alignment of her passions with those of the organizations that commission her work, all come together with Kiitella.
And, the medium is metal, the continuation of a long love affair that started on a study abroad program in Greece. She came across a metalsmith in the town of Chania on the island of Crete whose work proved an inspiration that took hold.
“All I know is, it was fascination at first sight,” Issenberg said. “Upon returning to the US, I dove into metalwork both small scale and large.”
Her small-scale work included jewelry and sculptural works of whimsy that often incorporated movement. The allure of large scale was undeniable, a process she described as “less delicate, more forgiving.” The work was a “full mind, full body passion.”
“I was just in it. Time flew by,” she said. “(Working with metal) just captured me. There was no question this was my medium.
“And maybe this is the most important part … the materials are beautiful. And any work of art is a collaboration with the materials. I rely on the metal’s inherent beauty, the juxtaposition of the layers, like the palette of a painting, (with) their texture and lustre.”
Issenberg will be busy in 2020. According to a news release, this year alone, in addition to the Aspen X Games, Kiitellä is creating custom awards for events and organizations including the Audi Birds of Prey World Cup Beaver Creek, all Lake Placid World Cups, Denver Film Festival, American Alpine Club, American Mountain Guides Association, The North Face, US Ski & Snowboarding, Audi Power of Four Aspen, Outdoor Retailer Innovation Awards, US Alpine Ski Championships and Grand Traverse.
Issenberg draws inspiration from what she calls her “heart-pounding influences,” such as Bauhaus form and graphics, Scandinavian minimalism, the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi (the art of imperfection) and “a tenet of modern architecture holding that materials should be used where appropriate, their natural beauty and imperfections revealed.”
“I’m just a messenger,” she said. “It’s a flow.”
She’ll be attending the Aspen X Games, which run through Jan. 26, and is looking forward to witnessing podium athletes accept one of her medals for the first time. She’s excited about the experience and relishes the feedback she’s received from other individuals who’ve received one of her medals or other awards.
“Creating an award for Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior under President Obama, from The American Alpine Club, was very moving,” Issenberg said. “I’ve received the kindest messages from film festival award recipients, such as, ‘These are beautiful,’ and ‘Seriously, these couldn’t be more amazing.’ Totally heart warming.”
The opportunity to create something new, “that I never knew existed,” fuels her passion for her work.
“Every project is an opportunity to challenge my design skills.”