From the Archives: Albin Polasek

Black and white photograph of an artist's studio depicting a sculptor working among many examples of his figurative work
The artist Albin Polasek in his studio among his sculptures, 1912 (photograph from the AAR Institutional Archive)

The spotlight has often shone on Paul Manship, AAR’s 1912 Rome Prize Fellow in sculpture, so we now turn to his colleague: Albin Polasek. A 1913 Fellow, Polasek was a Czech-American sculptor who, like Manship, worked in a neoclassical style. He may be best known today among residents of Winter Park, Florida, where he died in 1965, a few years after establishing the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens at his Mediterranean-style house on Lake Osceola.

Born in Moravia in 1879, Polasek emigrated to the United States with his family in 1901 as a woodcarver. He later studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and won the Rome Prize in 1910, spending three years as a Fellow. Later, he headed the sculpture department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a post he held for nearly three decades. In 1950, Polasek retired to Central Florida.

The collection in Winter Park comprises the bulk of Polasek’s output of over two hundred works, including the bronzes Aspiration (1914), Unfettered (1924), and Forest Idyl (1924). The Academy owns four works by Polasek: all bronze busts that are displayed in the Arthur Ross Reading Room. Three of these portray Jesse Benedict Carter (Director, 1914–17), Frederic Crowninshield (Director of the American School of Architecture in Rome, 1909–12, and Trustee), and founder Charles Follen McKim (President, 1894–1909). The fourth, a bust of Francis D. Millet, is almost certainly by Polasek—notwithstanding an attribution in the 1920–21 Annual Report to Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This work was cast the same year that Millet, an artist, writer, and Trustee, died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Polasek completed numerous public sculptures in the US and Europe. University of Chicago alumni will know, or at least have seen, his monument to Tomáš Masaryk on the east end of the Midway Plaisance. Another Chicago work is the 1923 bronze sculpture Spirit of Music in Grant Park. A beloved fountain in downtown Winter Park depicts his second wife, Emily Kubat Polasek, holding a harp, the strings of which are streams of water. 

Explore more of Polasek’s work in the American Academy in Rome’s Digital Humanities Center.

Realistic portrait painting of the head and shoulders of a light skinned man wearing a white open collar shirt and staring into the distance; behind him is a fragment of a figurative marble sculpture
Portrait of Albin Polasek, ca. 1913 (photograph from the AAR Institutional Archive)

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