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Q&A with Emily Coughlan, Albin Polasek Museum Curator

Q&A with Emily Coughlan, Albin Polasek Museum Curator

For the readers who haven’t had a chance to visit the Polasek Museum how would you describe it?

Founded in 1961, the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens preserves the over 200 piece collection of world-renowned Czech American sculptor Albin Polasek (1879–1965). Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the museum is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program. This places the Polasek Museum in a prestigious group alongside the homes of Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock and Winslow Homer. Polasek was posthumously named a Great Floridian in 2000 and inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2004 for his “strong and sustained commitment toward the development of cultural excellence.”

The Polasek Museum’s primary educational program is the docent-led tour of Polasek’s home and studio. Inspiring tours illustrate Polasek’s life story of immigrating to the United States in 1901, becoming a celebrated artist and continuing to create monumental works of art from his wheelchair after suffering a debilitating stroke at 71. Visitors can self-tour Polasek’s lakeside garden with over 50 pieces of outdoor sculpture. The museum also offers tours of the 1885 Capen House, a local historic home with a connection to Polasek, that was saved from demolition and relocated to the Polasek property in 2013.

Other programming includes four gallery exhibitions each year that showcase Florida-based artists, diverse cultural themes, open-call shows, unique private collections, sculpture and Czech artwork honoring Polasek’s heritage. At least three programs such as lectures, presentations, family open house days, workshops or classes accompany each exhibition. Every April the Polasek Museum invites 25 acclaimed artists to participate in the Winter Park Paint Out Plein Air Festival. This event generates over 200 original works of fine art depicting the beauty of Central Florida and offers a free week of community-wide events celebrating plein air painting.


Do you have a favorite piece or section of the museum? 

My favorite section of the museum is most likely the Art Storage and Archives. I have long had a love for research projects, so I greatly enjoy delving into our archives and learning about Albin’s life and friends through his correspondence, sketchbooks, and handwritten notes.

As for my favorite piece, that would be the bust of Francis D. Millet. Millet was the Chief of the American Academy in Rome when Polasek met him. Polasek had received the Prix de Rome scholarship from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, allowing him three years of study in Rome. During his studies, Millet agreed to sit for Polasek, resulting in a portrait bust of the professor. Upon completion, Millet exclaimed “I think it is remarkable! And it will do you lots of good.” These words rang true a few months later. On April 15, 1912, Millet perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic. After his death, Polasek received commissions for nine castings of the piece by places including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Harvard University, The American Academy in Rome and New York University. This piece holds a special place in my heart because I have been studying the Titanic disaster since I was 13 years old. The stories of her passengers fascinate me.  


What are some things folks may not know about the museum?

Many people have never heard of Albin Polasek. He is a world-renowned sculptor. People are often captivated when they tour the historic home and learn of his work and life. We are on the National Register of Historic Places as well as a member of the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios coalition, consisting of 44 museums that were once homes and studios of American artists. The Museum was founded in 1961 when Albin Polasek and his second wife, Emily Muska Kubat Polasek established the Albin Polasek Foundation. Its name has since been changed to the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, but their forethought has effectively preserved Polasek’s home, property, artwork and legacy. Most exciting is that 2021 marks the 60th Anniversary of the museum, a milestone that we are celebrating throughout the entire year.


Can you give us a sneak preview of what you’ll be showing at the virtual Polasek Museum 60th Anniversary Archive Tour on Thursday, May 20, 7:30 p.m.?

In honor of the Museum’s 60th Anniversary we’re meticulously rotating archival material on display each month. I am pleased to share some of this material with you. 

Items that will be included:

Albert Laessle (1877–1954), George D. Widener Gold Medal, c. 1915, 18k gold – Collection Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens 

Albin Polasek, Early Spirit of Music Sketch, n.d., graphite on paper – Collection Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens 

Photographer Unknown, Polasek Modeling Man Carving His Own Destiny, c. 1918, gelatin silver print


Do you have any events or limited exhibits that you want to tell our readers about?

Yes, our current exhibition is Cynthia Holmes: Sweet Surrealism. The exhibition is on display through July 11, 2021. Visitors will view representational forms coupled with stories that unite reality with the imagination. Discover surreal possibilities of otherworldly landscapes, animals, weather, people, mountains and rivers are intertwined with the stories of everyday.

Following this exhibition is Classical Conversations: Jack Hill and Edson Campos, July 20–October 3, 2021. This dual exhibition of Florida-based artists Jack Hill and Edson Campos juxtaposes classical themes with modern humor. Sculpture is a second profession for Hill whose career as a mime, magician and ventriloquist spanned three continents and 22 years. Campos has a long career of national and international acclaim, most recently winning a gold medal at the historic French Salon in Paris in 2020. This modern and sometimes surrealist take on the human body executed in a graceful and hyper realistic manner allude to the classical inspirations of each artist, respectively.

Due to Covid, our 13th Annual Winter Park Paint Out has been postponed to October 10–16, 2021. The museum, sculpture gardens and gallery will be free to the public during the week-long event. Twenty-five professionally acclaimed plein air artists will paint at the Polasek Museum and locations nearby with art lovers invited watch the artists at work, view their recently completed paintings in the gallery and attend free painting demonstrations. Artwork created during the Winter Park Paint Out will be available for purchase with a portion of the proceeds going to support the preservation, maintenance, and operation of the museum and gardens.

On display October 26–December 5, 2021 will be our 60th Anniversary Exhibition, Albin Polasek: Destiny Fulfilled. This exhibition will celebrate the work and legacy of internationally renowned sculptor, Albin Polasek. Delve into the annals of the museum’s permanent collection and archives and experience rarely displayed paintings, sculptures and ephemera. Witness Polasek’s creative process from conception to execution and celebrate the diamond anniversary of the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens.

We wrap up 2021 with an exhibiting installation of work by Czech artist Joža Uprka (1861–1940). Impressions of Life: Joža Uprka will be on display December 14, 2021–April 10, 2022. Introducing the exuberant art of Joža Uprka. Visitors will be swept up into the charming rural scenes in which he documented the vanishing customs and costumes of the Czech and Slovak people at the turn of the 19th Century. This heritage is shared with our Museum founder, Albin Polasek, who, like Uprka, was also from the Moravian region, in what is now the Czech Republic. Fall in love with this vibrate colorist story, the details of the ethnic embroideries, the pageantry of holidays and sincerity in which Joža Uprka recorded and depicted the everyday culture of his people. Part ethnographer, part Impressionist Master and Modernist painter, Uprka’s prolific body of work has been displayed internationally earning him recognition as one the finest painters of his time, and a star of the Czech Republic. He was close friends with elite artists of the period including Alphonse Mucha and is a contemporary and fellow countryman of Albin Polasek. His oeuvre includes watercolors, oils, posters, etchings and drawings, come from the George T. Drost collection of Chicago, IL. We invite you to bask in the glorious hues and brushstrokes of a master artist while learning about an interesting and festive culture.

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