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Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens — National Register of Historic Places
The older I get the greater appreciation I have for ‘old’ things! For me, the aging process has invoked a desire to seek out historical places, oftentimes a serene paradise of beauty and tranquility. These special spots of Americana seem frozen in time, just waiting to be discovered. Since May is National Historic Preservation Month it seemed fitting to tell you about a fabulous Florida historical find, right here in my own backyard.
It was during my birthday weekend in Winter Park, Florida when I came across The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens. The museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hubby and I spent hours exploring the compelling world of renowned artist and sculptor Albin Polasek. Our Polasek experience featured the famed artist’s home and studio and a 3.5-acre lakeside sculpture garden, an outstanding oasis of peacefulness and creative artistic genius.
Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios (HAHS) — National Trust for Historic Preservation
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that prior to my visit I had never even heard of Albin Polasek. Thank goodness for the endeavors of the Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios (HAHS), a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The national consortium is dedicated to helping American art-related historic sites preserve their buildings and collections so that people like me can be introduced to people with remarkable talent like Mr. Polasek.
If you have any interest at all in American Art, you should check out the organization’s website at http://Chesterwood.org. From New York to California, and everywhere in between, the extraordinary HAHS Sites host a half million visitors a year (plus 2, now that we’ve gone!), allowing them to step inside the intimate living and work spaces of American artists across the country. It’s one thing to read about artistic talent, but when we get to explore the actual places where painters had set up their easels and sculptors positioned their modeling stands, it can profoundly enrich our understanding of the creative process. There are at least 33 HAHS Sites nationwide that tell amazing stories of these artists’ lives. There’s probably a few in your State!
There are benefits of becoming a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:
- A one-year subscription to the National Trust’s quarterly magazine, Preservation
- Special discounts and packages for hotel stays at participating Historic Hotels of America
- Worldwide travel possibilities with National Trust Tours
- A personalized membership card which will outline further benefits as a member of the organization
Who was Albin Polasek?
Mr Polasek was born in 1879 in Frenstat, Moravia (modern day Czech Republic). He apprenticed as a woodcarver in Vienna prior to immigrating to the United States in 1901; he was 22 years young. He spent 4 years in the Midwest working as a woodcarver, then began his formal art training in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His teacher and mentor was the sensational sculptor, Charles Grafly. Under his guidance, Mr. Polasek learned the traditional techniques of sculpting, while developing his own distinct style. Two of Albin’s best-known sculptures were also his earliest. He created Man Carving His Own Destiny in 1907 and Eternal Moment in 1909, both as a student of the Pennsylvania Academy.
After touring the Albin Polasek Museum it’s difficult to choose a favorite sculpture as they were all spectacular specimens of a creative mind, but the Man Carving His Own Destiny certainly captured my attention and would be a top-pick for me. It was located on the front lawn prior to the Museum’s front entrance. It was a visual work of art, but for me, the intellectual purpose could not be overlooked. It was a vivid reminder that every person is responsible for carving out his own destiny. After a few minutes of staring down this magnum opus, I received this interpretation: Our purpose in life doesn’t just happen! Most often it’s a long painful process, whereby we chisel a path one grueling step after another — just like the sculptor did when he chiseled this masterpiece out of a chunk of cold rock. How he did it was beyond me, and how you and I reach our destiny despite adversity is no less dramatic.
In 1909, while still a student at the Academy, Albin Polasek became an American citizen. One year later, Polasek won the Prix de Rome competition, thus receiving a 3-year fellowship at the American Academy of Art in Rome. During his studies in Rome his Sower sculpture received an Honorable Mention award at the 1913 Paris salon. After completing his studies in Italy he came back to the United States and set up a studio in New York City. At the age of 37 he was invited to head the Sculpture Department at the Art Institute of Chicago. He was best-known for his tenure there, where he remained for nearly three decades.
In 1927 Polasek was elected an Associate Member of the National Academy of Design, an honor that cannot be applied for, only conferred. The honorary degree is reserved for America’s top sculptors, painters, architects, and printmakers — the creme de la creme. In 1933 he received full academician status and was able to place the coveted N.A. after his signature (meaning he’s a member of the National Academy, a goal many aspire but few obtain).
Albin Polasek would go on to do large public commissions, both stateside and abroad, capturing international attention. In 1942, his Mother Crying Over the World sculpture created a world standard for depicting the horror and grief of the Second World War. The sculpture was included in our tour, and was heart-rending, to say the least.
Albin Polasek Retires in Winter Park Florida
At the age of 70, Albin Polasek retired to Winter Park, Florida where he self-designed his home that remains on beautiful Lake Osceola. Just a few months after retiring he suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his left side. The rest of his life was spent in a wheelchair — and although his health and physical strength was cruelly taken away, his passion remained. He was still able to draw, paint, sculpt in clay, and carve wood with his right hand. As we learned during the tour, he even continued carving stone with the help of an assistant. (See photo below of Polasek in his wheelchair carving limestone with the help of an aide.) In fact, 18 major works were completed after the stroke. One of them, the politically motivated Victory of Moral Law, received world-wide acclamation.
In 1961 the Albin Polasek Foundation was set up to share his life’s works with the public. The Polasek Museum is a 3-part experience — the artist’s home, the private chapel, and the meticulously manicured sculpture gardens. On the day we attended, parts of the Museum were undergoing routine maintenance. We were given free admission since part of the tour was not accessible. Usually, docents guide guests through the Museum offering informative commentary about the life and times of Albin Polasek, but they were not available during our visit. Just as disappointing, we missed out on seeing the chapel interior, as it is only available with a docent led tour. (But hey, what do you want for free, right?) Even though our self-guided tour was an abbreviated version of the guided-tour, we were not let down. How could we be? In his lifetime Polasek created more than 400 impressive works, half of which are currently on museum property! With creativity around every corner, there was still ample space to explore with flashes of instant inspiration over Polasek’s ingenuity.
Albin Polasek died in 1965 and was buried in Winter Park’s Palm Cemetery, with his own 12th Station of the Cross (1939) as his monument. Since then, many contributions have been made by The Polasek Foundation to the City of Winter Park and Central Florida including various sculptures and art scholarships. In 2000 Mr. Polasek was named a “Great Floridian” by the state of Florida — only those who have made significant contributions to the history and culture of the Sunshine State are recognized and given this special distinction. (He’s in good company with people like Walter Elias “Walt” Disney… remember that guy?) In 2004 Polasek was inducted into Florida Artists Hall of Fame, which honors individuals who have made sizable contributions to the Arts in Florida.
As you can imagine, the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens are a popular destination for weddings and other special events. The radiant flora of the Polasek gardens coupled with the backdrop of lazy Lake Osceola can create some impressive photography. Here’s a few of my favorites…
Albin Polasek was said to have been a deeply religious man, and elements of his Christian faith were visible throughout the tour of the Museum and Gardens…
The Polasek Museum gallery also features rotating exhibitions by contemporary artists as well as historical collections. On our visit we ‘stumbled’ upon Byron Walker, a native Floridian artist who resides in Winter Park. He specializes in sculptural art and landscape development. He told us that the intent of his work is to assemble and display materials in ways they were not originally designed to function. Most of his current works are created from recyclable materials such as windshield glass, wood, steel, plastics, stone, organic matter, and plant life. I took his picture (see photo below) with a piece that was on display in the Polasek Gardens — an oversized chair made from 1,255 feet of garden hose. Pretty creative, huh? I told Byron I had seen a smaller, similar version during Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival a few years ago, and to my amazement he said he was the artist that created it for Disney! It’s a small world after all… (pun intended!).
Winter Park Paint Out — A Plein Air Festival
For 8 years the Polasek Museum has hosted the Winter Park Paint Out, an annual plain air festival. En Plein Air is a French term meaning “in the open air” and describes art works painted outdoors with the subject directly in view rather than in a studio. Since the event takes place the last week of April, they were busy making last minute preparations during our visit. If you’ve never been to the Museum, this is a fantastic time to go. Free admission is offered during the week-long festival, along with oil and acrylic painting demonstrations by 25 nationally acclaimed artists. What could be better than a front-row seat to creativity? In addition, the Saturday Night Garden Party is a special paid event that allows you to mingle with the artists (a sell-out every year) and purchase their one-of-a-kind artwork.
UPCOMING SPECIAL EVENT:
9th Annual Winter Park Paint Out
Host: Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens
Where: 633 Osceola Ave, Winter Park, Florida 32789
When: April 23 – 29, 2017
For additional information check out the event page on the Albin Polasek Museum website!
Albin Polasek Gardens — Heaven on Earth!
As I was leaving the Albin Polasek Sculpture Gardens, contemplating my next stop at The Morse Museum (with the most comprehensive collection of Tiffany Glass in the world!), I couldn’t help but notice the exquisite beauty of this Angel’s Trumpet shrub. The exotic beauty of its large trumpet-shaped fragrant blooms were a showstopper for me, and a reminder of what a heavenly day I had at the Gardens. It was enough to make my heart sing. What a great birthday celebration I had in Winter Park… it was almost as if Mr. Polasek and the angels themselves were smiling down upon me!
Have you been to the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park? Please share your experience or helpful information with our readers. Or perhaps you have a question? Simply reply in the comment box below — I’ll try my best to answer it!