Sculptor Albín Polášek

2 2003 Kultura English
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Born in 1879 into a humble Moravian home Albín Polášek became an internationally acclaimed sculptor for the ages. Plášek was the 7th son of Josef Plášek, a weaver and inn keeper whose business was at 19 on the square of Frenštát pod Radhoštěm. Albín´s mother was Petronila nne Knežek, the daughter of a butcher.

Young Albín´s life began simply, "Instead of learning, I drove cows through the square and along Mariánská Street up to our meadow every afternoon. I Sang folk songs and carved little figures out of wood."

At six years of age he was molding small figures out of clay in a local pottery. His first attempts at sculpture were inspired by the local carved nativity tradition. (A nativity he carved at age 15 while home on vacation as an apprentice wood carver is charmingly done -- the only model he used was the family cow and he ground his own pigments to color the figures -- it is a treasure preserved in his museum.)

Albín didn´t enjoy school and had many conflicts due to a streak of stubbornness and lack of discipline. He was somewhat disabled after being accidentally dropped as an infant.

When his father died young, Albín helped cared for the inn, the household and the farm along with his older brothers as his mother suffered from an eye illness.

After leaving school he had a turbulent period -- he tried to become an upholsterer, but failed after three months. He took up saddlery with his uncle in Vienna but quit after six months. He worked in a wood carving shop, then a weaver´s school, a furniture factory and then in a repair shop for religious statues. He matured as a craftsman but was not satisfied doing nothing more than craft.

The opportunity came in 1901 to go to America with his brother Robert, a priest. They traveled steerage class. Albín was 22, penniless and spoke no English but it was the beginning of his new life. He began work in an altar factory in Dubuque carvin life-sized religious figures.

He saved his money and in 1906 was accepted as a student of sculpture at the renowned Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia PA. During the summers he earned money working at the LaCrosse Hackner Altar factory. He carved a marble archangel and a life sized statue of Jan Hus. He earned honors at the school and awards as an outstanding student in 1907, 1908, 1909; this enabled a study tour of Europe. In 1910 he was awarded first prize in the Prixe Roma competition for his work Charity. The prize included a three year grant to study at the famed American Academy in Rome. Polášek created some of his outstanding works there -- Man Carving His Own Destiny, The Sower, Evoking Memories, and The Promised Land.

Polášek returned to live in NYC and set up a studio. He was asked to do a portrait of Louis Tiffany, famed as the inventor of the iridescent glass that bears his name, but decided not to do it as Tiffany was nervous and always occupied with glass projects. So he made a portrait of Tiffany´s daughter.

In 1916 Polášek was invited to Chicago to head the sculpture department of the prestigous Cicago Art Institute, a position he held until he retired in 1943. As a teacher he was simple and forceful and insisted on construction based on the structure of nature, "When every part moves into every other part, as it does in life, then the portrait is finished."

At the same time he was creating portraits and a gallery of statues both small and monumental. In 1926 he received a commission from the Czechs in America to create a memorial statute of President Wilson to be placed opposite the Wilson Station in Prague. It was enthusiastically received and Polášek was awarded the coveted Order of the White Lion Germans soldiers made the Wilson statue one of their first targets in 1938. It fell headfirst, but landed upright, so Czechs felt the spirit of Wilson would prevail.

A statue of Daniel Boone resulted in an invitation in 1927 to become a member of the National Academy of Design. When Polášek was asked for an oil painting of himself, he presented a self-portrait wearing an embroidered Moravian shirt. Polášek met opera singer Boza Ourniroff and his Czech pianist wife Ella Spravka. Polášek had a resonant, spirited voice and became Ourniroff´s enthusiastic pupil. The two sang duets for professional and social programs until Ourniroff died.

In 1929 while renting a studio in Prague, Polášek realized his dream of creating Radegast, the pagan god in clay. It was built on a colossal scale, nine feet tall. Another statue created at this time was Saints Cyril and Methodius who overthrew the pagan cult. Both statues were laboriously hauled up Mt. Radhošť at Polášek´s own expense. When peopole asked him why he did it, he said: "I have made them for the future, when you and I are gone, they will still be there. And, if one wanderer out of a hundred comes along who understands their message, I shall rest content."

During W. W. I he created a Victory Medal for the Czechoslovak cause, an upright figure of a fierce-eyed youth clad in the dress of his own mountains, holding in one hand a drawn sword, while with the other he protected the little green shoot that sprang from the dead stump of a Lípa tree (Lidnen) at his feet. Around the stump coiled the enemy dragon which he had slain. The inscription carved around the medal read Svoboda život národa (Liberty is the live of a nation). The lipa tree shoot bore five decorative heartshaped leaves, one for each of the five provinces that were fighting for freedom: Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Silesia and Ruthenia.

In 1942 Polášek created the famed Mother Crying Over the World which is in the NYC Hall of Fame. His monumental statue of the Blaník Knight on horseback was designed to portray President Masaryk as a liberator of Czechoslovakia and a great believer in truth, liberty and democracy. There is an old legend that tells of knights sleeping inside Mt. Blaník untel the time when the country is in great danger. Then the mountain will open to allow King Wenceslaus, the patron saint of Old Bohemia, to ride out with his army of knights to drive out the enemy.

Polášek intended to return to his homeland but realized this was no longer possible and in 1949 found a new "home" in Winter Park, Florida. He built his home and studio there and planned a garden filled with figures illustrating the myths and traditions of his homeland.

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"I am like a piece of rock which has 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 felt 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 opened to me."
Albín Polášek

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In 1950 a stroke paralyzed the left side of his body; yet he continued to work on. He married his former student and biographer Ruth Sherwood in 1950; she had written "Carving His Own Destiny," but she died two years after their marriage.

Polášek was lonely. He liked to speak in Czech and eat Czech foods. Among his friends was retired Dr. William Kubat and his wife Emily, daughter of Josef and Teresa Muska who had come to America from Prague. They were friends for several years and Dr. Kubat encouraged Polášek to remove the braces from his crippled left hand and leg; they were apparently causing a mental block that prevented full coordination in his right hand. When Dr. Kubat died, his widow Emily married the scupltor in 1961 to help him continue his work and adjust to his physical handicap.

Polášek´s dramatic scupltures can be found all over America in towns, galleries and universities. Some of his works are in his native region, Moravian Wallachia, donated out of devotion to his homeland. These include scupltures of the god Radegast and missionaries Cyril and Methodius atop Radhošť mountain, as well as Primeval Struggle.

Albín Polášek died on May 19th, 1964 leaving a legacy of culture and a tribute to his endless energy and passionate talent for creating.

The Albín Polášek Foundadion continues his heritage with The Albín Polášek Museum nad Scuplture Gardens in the home that he built. The stunning home, his magnificent worsk and three acres of lush gardens filled with classical figurative sculpture and whimsical mythological pieces are on the site. Visitors see Polášek´s personal chapel and enjoy the patio where his Emily graces a fountain, playing her harp to greet visitors. Magically, the strings of the harp are flowing water.

Besides a number of Polášek´s powerful works from all periods, the museum features scupltures by Hawthorne, Chase, Grafly, Mucha and Saint-Gaudens as well as numerous antiquities and outstanding pieces from Polášek´s collections.

Polášek´s life fulfilled his belief:

"Let´s trust in ourselves and have courage, and God wil help us to reach the goal." Don´t miss a visit to this awerinspiring place to honor the man who touched hearts around the world with this timeless creations.

The Albín Polášek Museum and Sculpture Gardens
633 Osceola Ave., POB 1691
Winter Park FL 32790
phone 407/647-6294
fax 407/647-01410

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