Albin Polasek (1879 – 1965) is her­alded as one of America’s fore­most sculp­tors of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. Cel­e­brated in his own life­time, Polasek cre­ated fig­u­ra­tive works of sound com­po­si­tion based upon the true struc­ture of nature. His goal was to show the essen­tial unity of head or fig­ure and the beauty of “move­ment,” the flow of one mass into another. He felt that move­ment made the dif­fer­ence between a work exud­ing life and some­thing inan­i­mate. Polasek’s abil­ity to cap­ture the spirit of his sub­ject pro­vided inspi­ra­tion to suc­ces­sors such as Rich­mond Barthe, Sylvia Shaw Jud­son and Ruth Sherwood.

Born in 1879 in Fren­stat, Moravia (now Czech Repub­lic), Albin Polasek appren­ticed as a wood­carver in Vienna before immi­grat­ing to the United States in 1901 at the age of 22. After four years work­ing as a wood­carver in the Amer­i­can Mid­west, Polasek began his for­mal art train­ing at the Penn­syl­va­nia Acad­emy of the Fine Arts in Philadel­phia. Under the guid­ance of sculp­tor Charles Grafly, Polasek learned the tra­di­tional clas­si­cal tech­niques of sculpt­ing, while refin­ing his own dis­tinct style. As a stu­dent he first cre­ated Man Carv­ing His Own Des­tiny (1907) and Eter­nal Moment (1909), two of his ear­li­est well-known sculp­tures. In 1909, while still a stu­dent at the Penn­syl­va­nia Acad­emy, Polasek became an Amer­i­can citizen.

In 1910, Polasek won the Prix de Rome com­pe­ti­tion, which granted him a three‑year fel­low­ship at the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Art in Rome. While study­ing in Rome, his Sower was awarded an Hon­or­able Men­tion at the spring 1913 Paris Salon. After com­plet­ing his stud­ies in Italy, Polasek set up a stu­dio in New York City. In 1916, at the age of 37, he was invited to head the Sculp­ture Depart­ment at the Art Insti­tute of Chicago, where he remained for nearly thirty years.

In early 1927, Albin Polasek was elected an Asso­ciate Mem­ber of the National Acad­emy of Design. This hon­orary degree is reserved for America’s top painters, sculp­tors, print­mak­ers and archi­tects and can­not be applied for; it can only be con­ferred. Polasek received full aca­d­e­mi­cian sta­tus in 1933, allow­ing him to place the cov­eted N.A. after his signature.

Large pub­lic com­mis­sions such as the Theodore Thomas Memo­r­ial (1924) and the Masaryk Memo­r­ial (1941) in Chicago and the Wil­son Mon­u­ment (1928), Radi­gast (1931) and Sts. Cyril and Method­ius (1931) in the Czech Repub­lic brought Polasek to the world’s atten­tion. Lion­ized by the pub­lic and crit­ics alike, Polasek expe­ri­enced the growth of his rep­u­ta­tion within his own life­time. His poignant Mother Cry­ing Over the World (1942) cre­ated a world stan­dard for depict­ing the grief and hor­ror of the Sec­ond World War.

In Jan­u­ary 1950, at the age of 70, Albin Polasek retired to Win­ter Park, Florida, design­ing his home and hav­ing it built on pic­turesque Lake Osce­ola. His close friend and for­mer stu­dent Ruth Sher­wood had retired to Win­ter Park sev­eral years ear­lier. Sher­wood and Polasek first met in 1916, just prior to Sher­wood becom­ing his stu­dent at the Art Insti­tute of Chicago; their friend­ship was instant and long-lasting. In Decem­ber 1950, Sher­wood and Polasek mar­ried – it was a first mar­riage for both. Polasek was 71, Sher­wood 61. Less than two years later Sher­wood died.

Seven months prior to mar­ry­ing Sher­wood, Polasek had suf­fered a stroke, which left him par­a­lyzed on his left side. Although he spent the remain­der of his life in a wheel­chair, he was still able to paint, draw, sculpt in clay and carve wood with his right hand, and with an assis­tant he could carve stone. Post-stroke, Polasek’s efforts were pri­mar­ily focused on the per­fec­tion and repro­duc­tion of his best known works, while newer orig­i­nal works became more inti­mate. After his stroke, Albin Polasek com­pleted eigh­teen major works, includ­ing the polit­i­cally moti­vated Vic­tory of Moral Law (1957) as a direct response to the Hun­gar­ian Rev­o­lu­tion. This work received world-wide acclaim.

In 1961, nine years after Sherwood’s death, Polasek mar­ried Emily Muska Kubat. That year the Polaseks set up the Albin Polasek Foun­da­tion to share with the pub­lic his life’s works. At that time the gal­leries, chapel and gar­dens were opened as a museum. Fol­low­ing the death of Emily Polasek in 1988, the res­i­dence was opened to the pub­lic. Albin Polasek cre­ated more than four hun­dred works dur­ing his pro­lific career, two hun­dred of which are cur­rently on museum property.

Upon his death in 1965, Polasek was buried along­side first wife Ruth Sher­wood in Win­ter Park’s Palm Ceme­tery, with his own 12th Sta­tion of the Cross (c. 1939) as his mon­u­ment. Emily Polasek died in 1988. Along with her first hus­band Dr. Kubat, Emily Polasek was buried in the Polasek fam­ily plot.

The foun­da­tion has con­tributed to the cul­ture of Win­ter Park and Cen­tral Florida in many ways, includ­ing the dona­tion of sculp­tures For­est Idyl and Emily Foun­tain to the City of Win­ter Park, the long-term loan of Man Carv­ing His Own Des­tiny to the Win­ter Park Pub­lic Library, as well as art schol­ar­ships to the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Florida, Rollins Col­lege and Cre­alde School of Art. Over the years other con­tri­bu­tions have been granted to 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.

In the year 2000, Polasek was named a “Great Florid­ian” by the state of Florida, a dis­tinc­tion that rec­og­nizes those who made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the his­tory and cul­ture of the state. In 2004, Albin Polasek was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, which rec­og­nizes those who have made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the arts in Florida.