An essay by Spencer B. Johnston
I had never been to the Polasek Museum, even though I live within a few short blocks of it. In fact, I drive past its entrance several times a day since I moved to Winter Park, Florida a year ago. In all that time, I never even noticed the sign! However, one day that all changed when I was watching television. An older gentleman appeared on Antiques Roadshow with a pretty impressive bust of a child. He explained that his parents had been friends with a talented artist named Polasek. As a gift to the then young boy’s parents, he sculpted a magnificent bust of the young man. When the art appraiser began to tell about Polasek, he didn’t hesitate to mention the artist’s retirement home of Winter Park, Florida. It was a natural choice for me to visit the Polasek Museum when I learned of this assignment and I relished in an excuse to get out and enjoy a cultural experience practically in my wife and I’s own backyard.
Upon entering the museum’s meticulously landscaped grounds, I was greeted by a sign informing me that a special gallery was on display featuring local artists’ work. The event was dubbed The Winter Park Paint Out. The entire gallery was landscape portraits with acrylics on canvas. Appropriately enough, the dazzling visual art paid homage entirely to The Polasek Museum’s outer courtyard and I soon discovered that the only thing that could compare to the vibrant colors’ pop inside the building was their inspiration outside.
My favorite of these locally painted pieces included Jackie Schindehette’s “Wasserman Pond”, which depicts familiarly mysterious brush alongside the body of water. This painting represents a fear of the unknown that I frequently experience on outings to Rock Springs, the beach or virtually anywhere that could have critters lurking around. Linda Blondheims “Vegetable Garden” contains vibrant colors that aren’t traditionally found in nature (until you walk outside to see the beautiful scene in person). Elisabeth Farber’s “Park and Morse” is a vision of citizens of Winter Park’s culture, as well as many of our daily downtown traffic commutes.
The visual representation of The Polasek Museum’s outdoor area on canvas is pretty amazing. But, for me there was nothing like being there and experiencing it first-hand. Down the winding sidewalks and trails of the lakefront property is a collection of rare and beautiful flowers, plants, cacti and just like the painting, there’s even a real vegetable garden. It’s unclear to me whether or not this was strictly ornamental or not, but it’s nice to know that if the volunteer staff at the museum ever have to work through lunch, a not-too-bad substitute is only a stone’s throw away. I was very impressed by many plants I’ve never seen, and I consider myself a plant savvy person. It seemed really neat to ‘grow’ art, rather than to create it. I feel like that was a great way to expand by speaking to a broader audience.
Intertwined in flawless landscaping, Polasek’s better known sculptures chicken pox the area, pleasantly blending the worlds of classical style sculpture art and nature. It became known to me early on that Polasek was a devoted man of God. When I entered the museum, one of the first things I noticed was a mosaic floor pattern meant to resemble stained glass. The theme then continued in his sculptures and even in relief sculptures along a garden wall. These in particular were notably reminders of “The Human Spirit”.
Many of the artist’s sculptures are made of bronze, which weathers well in my opinion. Of these, “SVANTOVIT”, (1933) a brute Viking on his distinguished horse, was my favorite. Others, like “King Under the Sea”, is made entirely of concrete. Depicting a giant half man, half sea creature, this fountain piece is an intricate part of the Museum’s koi pond. Agile for his size, the massive figure gently cradles two fish who playfully emit a steady bath of water onto the koi below. Appropriately, “Man Carving His Own Destiny”, is made of limestone. George, a volunteer at the Polasek Museum tells me that this was the artist’s lifework. The use of limestone radiates to me. From the Pyramids at Giza, to Polasek’s life work, limestone is typically used when the artist or creator wants to convey great importance and permanence.
Although the artist Albin Polasek is no longer gracing Winter Park’s artists’ community with his talented hands and mind, his legacy lives on today. Through his art, he continues to help shape a community he once called home. The staff and volunteers at The Polasek Museum have done a magnificent job of keeping up the national historic site. It is truly a celebration of the human spirit.