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Digitizing the Polasek Archive: Introduction

Digitizing the Polasek Archive: Introduction

Tucked away in the scenic town of Winter Park, Florida is the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, a Historic Artist Home and Studio. Although not an institution that is large in terms of square-footage, the museum holds high aspirations as a valued part of Winter Park local history, and connections to international historical narratives. Albin Polasek was born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1879 and immigrated to the United States in 1901 where he worked to build up a successful career as a sculptor, and teacher at the University of Chicago. Upon his retirement from teaching in 1949, he moved to Winter Park. As an intern at the museum and now a volunteer, I am working to digitize and rejuvenate the museum’s paper archive beginning with Polasek’s extensive postcard collection.

Winter Park was actually Polasek’s second choice, for he yearned to return home to Czechoslovakia, but the communist takeover in 1948 hindered his plans. Thus the museum stands as a place to learn not only about art techniques, art history and horticulture, but about local and international history through the story of an immigrant living the classic American dream. From his successful career as an artist during which he created numerous commissioned bronze public memorials, Polasek was able to travel extensively between Europe and the United States. From each of his stops he purchased an easy souvenir for remembrance: a simple postcard. In addition to these blank postcards, Polasek’s friends send him cards from their own travels around the world, culminating in a collection of cards ranging from 1908 to 1964.

Among the postcards that Polasek received from friends, about one fourth of them are written in Czech and from numerous small towns in Czechoslovakia and Europe. Messages in English are mostly from friends in the United States, and many contain simple information regarding weather, health and traveling. Some friends write to Polasek’s first or second wife to check in with the state of his health, as he had a stroke shortly after moving to Winter Park. Yet even as the stroke left him paralyzed on his left side, he continued to create art, adding to the vitality of his story. Below is a map of the locations of the cards that have been scanned so far, those with messages in blue and without in red. Some of the points are overlapping, thus there are more cards cataloged then are visible, but one can search for a specific place on the left hand side.

The postcards aid the museum in filling in the gaps of Polasek’s life story, and adding more context to the influences over his art. His travels are supported by his biography, written by his first wife Ruth Sherwood, now out of print. An ultimate goal of the digitization of the Polasek archive is to open the materials up to researchers as well as the public, to learn more about his story, a unique experience of the early 20th century. As an immigrant, Polasek took advantage of his successful career to see much of his adopted nation, as well as to bring his own Czech culture to the melting pot of America during a time when nativism thrived. By blogging about this project, I hope to stir up more ideas for where it can lead, and utilize the best resources for a limited budget historic home.

All photos from Google Maps and Google MyMaps. 2017.

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