In the heart of Winter Park Florida is a precious little garden and museum devoted to the sculptor Albin Polasek.
Founded in 1961, the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens holds an art collection focusing primarily on American representational sculpture, with over 200 works by Czech-born American sculptor Albin Polasek.
The museum offers guided tours of the historic Polasek residence and chapel, an outdoor sculpture garden and a gift shop. We took an unguided tour of the sculpture garden. It was paved and accessiible – a real treat!
The museum is the retirement home of 2004 Florida Artists Hall of Fame inductee Albin Polasek, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of only 30 members of the National Trust’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios.
Born in the province of Moravia (now Czech Republic), Albin Polasek immigrated to this country as a young woodcarver in 1901. He later attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the American Academy of Art in Rome. During his influential artistic and educational career, Polasek won many awards for his works and was commissioned to create numerous public sculptures now found throughout Europe and America. Polasek dedicated his life to encouraging the study, appreciation and furtherance of representational art.
“I am like a piece of rock which has been broken off of the Carpathian Mountains in the heart of Czechoslovakia. Later this crude stone was transported to the Land of the Free: the United States of America. This block of stone was myself.
Through the opportunities that this country gave me, I started to carve out my destiny, to free myself from the rock so that I might be useful. No one knows the deep gratitude I feel for all that I have received.
So if, as an immigrant, I have been able to contribute to some small part of American life, I know that I owe it to the opportunities this country has afforded me.”
Albin Polasek retired to Winter Park, Florida in 1949 after nearly thirty years as the head of the Department of Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1961, the Albin Polasek Foundation was formed at the sculptor’s request, and his gallery was opened to the public as a museum.
In addition, the Foundation has contributed to the culture of Winter Park and Central Florida in many ways since then. Contributions include the donation of sculptures Forest Idyl and the Emily fountain to the City of Winter Park, the long-term loan of Man Carving His Own Destiny to the Winter Park Public Library,
art scholarships to the University of Central Florida, Rollins College, Crealde School of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Brown University and the Art Institute of Chicago.
A sister-city relationship between the City of Winter Park and Polasek’s hometown of Frenstat, Moravia, was established in 1996.
Beginning in 1998, the museum’s trustees renewed their commitment to actively promote Albin Polasek’s legacy based on a coordinated, long-range improvement plan. In 2008 the museum was re-roofed and re-painted with privately generated funds.
This ongoing plan focuses on renovating and expanding the museum, increasing public awareness of the museum and developing cultural and educational programs.
As a result of these efforts the museum was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Albin Polasek was awarded the honor of Great Floridian 2000 and was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004.
In 2008 the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens was added to the National Trust’s ‘Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios’ – an exclusive group with only 30 member organizations throughout the country, including the homes and studios of sculptors Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
There is a special vibe about the way the sculptures in the garden “nest” in the garden and borrow from the lake and climate.
We were able to stop and meditate throughout the garden on its many resting places in sun and shade.
But what captured us most was the majestic subjects sitting in a home setting, and without one overpowering the other.
Perhaps it the majestic greenery in the garden that matched so well the sculptures, or maybe the way the Florida weather just seems to make us bask in the warmth without asking much from us in return.
Everything is so green, yet eye-popping reds and flowers and other growing spectacles capture the visual landscape around each statue.
And then we turn a corner and are captured again by another masterpiece asking nothing but to be noted or just remembered for another time and place.
We must obey, and follow, and tuck its memory into the recesses of our minds and pull out when we are home and need a lift or a tender sight or just a place for our eyes to light.
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