Unexpected Art Discovered While Walking my Dog

Finding Works by a world famous artist on a walk.

I noticed a War Memorial when I was walking my dog to Kenilworth beach so I decided to take a closer look. A bronze plaque mounted on a pink granite boulder, located at the back of a park next to the village hall on Kenilworth Aveneue.   It was a bas relief of a woman and a list of the men from Kenilworth killed in World War I.  To my surprise, I saw that it was signed by Albin Polasek, a Czech sculptor with a Chicago connection.  The plaque is inscribed with this message "Let's make the earth a garden where deeds of the valiant may blossom and bear fruit."

Kenilworth Memorial Plaque

Kenilworth Memorial Plaque

That led me to take another look at the larger than life black bronze sculpture at the Chicago Botanic Garden, located on The Esplanade between the Regenstein Building and the North Lake.  On a closer examination, I found that "The Sower" was  by Albin Polasek, completed by in 1907. When it was created, there was no Chicago Botanic Garden, so who commissioned it and how did it get there?

The Art Institute purchased "The Sower", Polasek's best known work and  displayed it near the Michigan Ave entrance for years. It went off display was put in storage until it was given to the Chicago Park District to be displayed at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois.  The Garden's statement states " 'The Sower' celebrates the garden's historic relationship with the Art Institute while acknowledging the Garden's dedication to spreading the seeds of learning about plants and the natural world."IMG_3652

Albin Polasek was born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1879.  He left to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine  Arts in 1901. In 1916, he was invited to head the department of sculpture at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and remained there for thirty years.  His sculptures are located all over Europe and the United States and at his home in retirement in Winter Park, Florida, now a museum. "The Sower", the sculpture at the Botanic Garden was one of Polaseck's early  and most acclaimed works, won an honorable mention at the Paris Salon in 1913.

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Filed under: Sculpture, Unexpected Art

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  • Glad you stumbled across Albin Polasek! He has a great many public works in the Chicago area, although the majority of his sculpture can be seen at his retirement home at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park, Florida. If you like to learn more about Mr. Polasek, please visit the Museum or our website at www.polasek.org.

    To answer your question though, here's some more history about "The Sower":
    During his time at the American Academy in Rome, Albin Polasek began his “Sower” because he was inspired by the parable of Jesus, “A sower went forth to sow.” He first planned a Christ head statue scattering the seed of good throughout the world. However, as he worked, he changed to a realistic construction suggesting a farmer rather than the spiritual leader. One handsome Italian served as the principal model, and the sculptor used his own legs for models.

    “The Sower” won Honorable Mention in the Spring 1913 Paris Salon and was also exhibited at the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. In 1916, the “Sower” was placed on the front steps of the Art Institute of Chicago, attracting attention of the city’s censors. This official censor immediately demanded that the “Sower” be clothed or removed, but the Art Institute refused to comply with the demands of the censor on the grounds that the statue was on property not under City Hall jurisdiction. Of course, this incident won Polasek much notoriety and support as he began his career in Chicago. Later, Friends of American Art purchased the bronze and presented it to the permanent collection of the Art Institute. Now, “The Sower” resides at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

    In 1963 the MacNeal Memorial Hospital Association, Berwyn, Illinois, used “The Sower” as a model of human anatomy in their Annual Report. The report correlated the operation of the hospital with the human body. The editor wrote Mr. Polasek, “. . . Actually, our search for art led us through Michelangelo, DaVinci, and other old-timers. We were delighted with our ultimate choice by a great Chicago artist of our times . . . “

    A second casting of “The Sower” walks along the front driveway of the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park, FL. The recast was ordered by the artist in 1962 as he populated his property with works to share with generations of future art lovers.

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