X Games medals are meant to be special. The award is given to athletes who achieve outstanding performance in their sport, an achievement that may take years to achieve.
Colorado artist Lisa Issenberg understands the responsibility that comes with making such gifts.
“The end result just needs to be a significant tribute to extraordinary athletes who have worked perhaps a lifetime to get to the podium,” said Issenberg. “I definitely don’t take it lightly. It’s a huge task to come up with something that combines the branding of a large organization and does it in style with beauty, depth and weight. I want to give everything. “
Issenberg, who operates in his Ridgway studio, nicknamed Kiitellä – Finnish for “thanking, clapping or praising” – is first brought by X Games in 2020 to make the medal they were so desperate for. The partnership went so well that ESPN’s Brian Kerr, the competition association director for X Games who oversees the medals, brought Issenberg back on the lap for the 2021 Aspen X Games, which run Friday through Sunday in the Buttermilk Ski Area.
“We are very happy to once again partner with a local artist who is visionary and creative. We really appreciate and share its values, ”said Kerr. “His eco-friendly practice is in line with our X Games sustainability program, and we are delighted that our Aspen X Games medal was designed and brought to life right here in his studio in the great state of Colorado.”
Photo courtesy of the X Games Aspen 2021 medal, by Ridgway artist Lisa Issenberg.
Every medal that Issenberg creates is handcrafted with mostly recycled materials and is limited without excess waste. He founded his company with the aim of rewarding and has clients that include Aspen Skiing Co. – he has long won a Strength Four medal – the World of Prey Cup skiing race in Beaver Creek, and The North Face, among many others.
Issenberg uses a minimalist design philosophy in his work – drawing inspiration from the Bauhaus as well as the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi, which is essentially an acceptance of imperfection. The design he used on this year’s X Games medal is certainly different from last year’s, but still has the same familiar feeling.
“These are fresh new designs, but you can tell that they are from the same studio and from the same hands,” said Issenberg. “Every project is a new design challenge and I never know if I’ll get it right. Like a painter or writer, you can’t tell if or when a work is finished. But if you keep moving the pencil the final design will appear like a haiku and you know that. “
Not only was Issenberg responsible for making the major X Games medals, but he’s also made Knuckle Huck’s rings this year, two of which have won each contest. In addition, he’s made this year’s Real Series medals – ESPN’s ski, snowboard and mountain bike competition – as well as Rocket League medals, a virtual competition based on the popular video game.
For the 2020 Aspen X Games, Issenberg created nearly 100 medals, but that number has dropped dramatically this year as the coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed the event.
Photo courtesy of X Games Aspen 2021 ring Knuckle Huck, created by Ridgway artist Lisa Issenberg.
“I have heard some athletes talk about some of their competitions being canceled, but the X Games, who can still be involved this year are looking forward to it and should train with a goal in mind,” said Issenberg. “It’s wonderful to see the creativity that comes out of the pandemic. At first everything just died and it was a bit of a panic. And then, little by little, you see organizations popping up and saying, ‘OK, let’s recreate what we can with what we have.’ “
X Games for sure has been recreated because of the pandemic. By 2021, it will not include any motor sport, such as snowmobile, any concerts or any spectators. About 100 athletes were invited to take part in 14 ski and snowboarding events.
However, that is the essence of the Winter X Games. The athlete lineup still covers the best of the sport – from Chloe Kim to Shaun White to hometown hero Alex Ferreira – and remains a focal point for professional skiers and snowboarders.
Winning an X Games medal is not about the medal, but the medal represents an extraordinary achievement, both by the artist and the athlete.
“This is art at its best,” said Kerr. “We are stepping into 2021 to try and have fun again. We would like to bring some X Games lights to get rid of the COVID fog. We’re all looking forward now, not back. We hope our athletes can gather and develop over the weekend of the X Games. “
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