The Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Garden
This sculpture park is an unexpected gem in the Orlando area. It’s an inspiring place with excellent art work in a gorgeous setting, and we were very happy to find out about someone we’ve never heard of before, especially someone so obviously talented, of this stature. Albin Polasek is considered to be one of America’s most prominent 20th century sculptors and is world-renowned with a big story and a big legacy.
The museum is in a lovely, Mediterranean-style house set in a pretty 3-acre garden overlooking Lake Osceola. Inside are some of Polasek’s works and actual possessions, plus the exhibition hall that has revolving exhibitions (currently Henrietta Milan).
The museum is in 3 parts: a house tour, visit the exhibition hall attached to the house (it served the same function in his time), and wander around the gardens.
You enter in the gift shop, which opens into the exhibition hall. After looking at the special exhibit, you can wander around the gardens, which showcase many of Polasek’s works, plus some pieces by other sculptors, such as Charles Hawthorne, Alphonse Mucha and Charles Grafly. Many of the plants and trees are labeled, which is helpful for understanding the flora of this area. There’s also a small kitchen garden, called Monet’s Kitchen Garden.
Then find out the time they show the video of his life and do the house tour, which is well worth it. The actual house, only available by tour, is quite simple. The great hall was the living/dining room, plus his work area as it had big skylights for lots of natural light. Linked to the house by a covered porch is a small private chapel.
Polasek worked with stone, bronze, plaster, wood and oils. Some of his pieces are in the Rodin style, others are more like Michelangelo’s; many are religious (he was a devout Catholic); many others have a folklore theme, either Greek/Roman or Czech/Moravian. He was born in Moravia in 1879 and came to the US at age 22. At age 15, he’d already won an award for a wood-carved crèche set, which is now in a special display box in the house. He always remembered his background and wanted to preserve the old Czech and Slovakian myths, legends and heroes, so he wrote down all he could remember, and sculpted many of the figures.
After studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and living many years in New York, he became the director of sculpture at the Art Institute in Chicago, a position he held for 30 years. He had no children, as he only married very late in life, to one of his former Chicago students, but she died 18 months later. They had moved to Florida by then to this house he designed in Winter Park. He had a stroke but continued working even though confined to a wheelchair, and married again to a younger woman. Polasek died at age 86 on May 19, 1965. He had already established the Polasek Foundation in 1961, so that he could share his art or, in his words, his “children”, with the world.
He won many awards and prizes. Apparently, he was very proud of one particular medal, the Order of White Lion, given by the Czechoslovakian government in 1928 for Czechoslovakians living elsewhere. It was given 10 years after the Czechoslovakian country was formed after WW1. He sent some of his large Czech myth statues to his country of birth.
The museum also offers a Classical Music Concert Series, which is fitting, as Polasek loved music. In the living room of the house you can see his actual piano plus photos of concerts at the house with various artists that he invited to play. He and his friends also liked singing, especially folk songs from Moravia and Czechoslovakia.
These lovely tropical grounds are ideal for special events, like weddings (which can also use the small private chapel).
633 Oseola Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
Hours: Tues-Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 1-4pm
Admission: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students, members and kids under 12 free.