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Left to right: The Hannibal Square Heritage Center, which salutes the history of Winter Park’s historically African-American west side, features a life cast of local hero Richard Hall. a member of World War II’s legendary Tuskegee Airmen. World War II also happens to be the topic of a new exhibit at the Winter ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� LIVING IN WINTER PARK 35 spirit of indomitability that hovers over the place. Once you hear the story of the muscleman of Winter Park museums, you’ll understand why. Born in Moravia (now the Czech Republic), Polasek worked as a woodcarver in Vienna before immigrating to the U.S. at the age of 22. He continued his career in altar-carving factories in the Midwest, and studied sculpture at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. For 30 years, Polasek was head of the sculpture department at the Art Institute of Chicago. By the time he retired in the late 1940s, he had established himself as a master. He crafted monumental works: warriors and mythological figures; a 28-foot statue of Woodrow Wilson; a breathtaking rendering of Christ on the cross, who appears, even in the midst of his suffering, to be rising up and away, every feature in his face and every sinew in his body reverberating in triumph. Shortly after moving to Winter Park from Chicago, Polasek suffered a stroke. It paralyzed one side of his body — but it didn’t defeat him. He devised a system that enabled him to continue sculpting despite its physical demands. He would poise a chisel over a work in progress with his one good hand. An assistant would stand by his side with a hammer and strike the chisel at Polasek’s command. Using this painstaking method, hour after laborious hour, the artist continued his life’s work unabated, creating an additional 18 major works by the time he died in 1965. Polasek’s Mediterranean-style studio/home — and a collection of 200 works, many of them displayed on the expansive grounds — is now owned and operated by the Albin Polasek Foundation. Its major annual event is the Winter Park Paint Out in April, when artists are invited to paint in the open air, creating landscapes that are then offered for sale as a fundraiser. But the home, while beautiful, was unpretentious and compact. The museum needed more room for administrative offices and a space to host events, such as weddings. When a solution arose, it came in a form that the iron-willed artist would have appreciated: It was dramatic — and it looked utterly impossible. The Capen-Showalter House, a historic home across Lake Osceola from the museum, was scheduled for demolition. Alarmed, a group of Winter Park preservationists came up with an idea: Why not cut the house in half, load it on makeshift barges, float it across the water and reassemble it on the Polasek property? It was as crazy as the notion of a paralyzed, 70-year-old sculptor blithely continuing to ply his life’s work using an assistant’s hands. And it happened, thanks to a campaign that raised $650,000 to fund the 500-meter voyage. At dedication ceremonies in 2014, former Rollins President Thaddeus Seymour, who had led the fundraising charge, stood on a plaza behind the restored home and raised a glass in the direction of the lake and the sculpture garden. His brief but poignant toast: “To perseverance!” A small, celebratory crowd was there to hear it. It’s nice to think that Albin Polasek was, too. The Polasek is open Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children age 12 through college. Younger children are admitted free. Call 407-647-6294 or visit polasek.org for more information. THE WINTER PARK HISTORY MUSEUM AND THE HANNIBAL SQUARE HERITAGE CENTER Winter Park’s two history museums are separated by just a few blocks, but they reflect two distinct communities, past and present. The Winter Park History Museum occupies a corner of the old railroad station, along New England Avenue and one block west of Park Avenue, in a space that was once the freight ticketing office of the old Atlantic Coast Line. PHOTO BY WINTER PARK PICTURES


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