Polk Museum Of Art Brings Together Lakeland Community Through Art And People
by James Coulter
If you’ve ever gazed upon the urn collection of John Maschol, chances are you’d probably mistake them for artifacts from an ancient civilization; but not only did Maschol handcraft these urns himself, but he also created them out of wood. That’s how great he is at woodturning.
For the past 30 years, Maschol has been working his craft of woodturning, creating countless wooden art pieces crafted from a variety of different wood, from Native American wood to some wood from forests in far off countries.
As a retired structural engineer, he maintains a technical eye for his artwork. His art pieces are solid on the outside, hollow on the inside, but still maintain the same consistent thickness and artistic profile throughout.
Maschol has showcased his work for the past 25 years at various art shows, including the upcoming Mayfaire-By-The-Lake, the annual Lakeland outdoor art festival hosted by the Polk Museum of Art, which will be hosted this weekend on May 11 and 12.
For the past 22 years, he has visited the annual Lakeland art festival, and he has consistently done so for the past 7 years. He even managed to win awards in 2012 and 2017. By far, what has kept him coming back time and again has been the overall veneration the show and museum has for artists.
“They have a lot of respect for the artists, and the artists have a lot of respect for them, so it is mutual, and it is always good when you have an organization that respects the artists, that respects their work, and not just uses them to make money off of them,” Maschol said. “They are looking to create an enviroment where artists sell their artwork to patrons and share their work.”
Maschol himself has also frequented the museum several times, sometimes for inspiration, and other times simply to appreciate other people’s artwork. He likes the overall layout of the museum, with a somewhat open enviroment. He especially loves its affiliation with the Smithsonian, allowing it to showcase high-caliber artwork.
“It is a very classy enviroment going into the museum,” he said. “They have a wide variety of artwork…you get to see a good variety of work from the museum, and I think the architecture of the museum lends well to the artwork within its collection.”
Located in Downtown Lakeland across from the Lakeland Public Library, The Polk Museum of Art has become a real cultural staple within the local community and within Central Florida in recent years, especially due to its affiliation with the Smithsonian and recently with Florida Southern College.
Founded in 1966, the museum has been a nationally-accredited fine art museum since the early 1980s. Currently, it serves as a Smithsonian Affiliate and as a member of the Association of Academic Galleries and Museums. These affiliations allow the museum to access a vast and diverse collection of artwork and showcase it within its galleries.
Each year, the museum hosts at least 26 exhibitions. Most exhibits rotate two to three months, ensuring that visitors see something new and fresh with every visit, explained Diana Smith, Director of Membership and Marketing.
In 2017, the museum formed a partnership with Florida Southern College. This partnership in turn has provided the museum with additional funding, allowing it to better facilitate exhibitions with artwork that otherwise would have been unattainable, explained Smith.
“Like other museums, we struggle for adequate funding,” she said. “To secure these high-caliber exhibitions and big names that people really want to come out and see and recognize like Degas and Goya and Picasso, you have to put down some money for that; and for a non-profit, that can be difficult…so that partnership has allowed us to bring in high-caliber exhibitions to the community, and we are thrilled about that.”
Aside from additional funding, the FSC partnership also allows the museum to utilize the college’s resources and staff to help facilitate exhibitions and events. For example, one of their gallery talks hosted earlier this year on the artwork of Degas incorporated ballet performed by FSC dance students and coordinated by Erin LaSala, the college dance program director.
Being able to facilitate such elaborate events and exhibitions has allowed the museum to better flourish within the past two years, as attendance to the museum and its special events have nearly doubled during that time, explained Alex Rich, Museum Curator and Director of Galleries and Exhibitions, and Head of College Galleries and Director of Art History Program at FSC.
“With the museum and college working together, we have tried to raise the caliber of everything we do at the museum, enhancing the great work the museum has already been doing in past years,” he said. “Over the past two years, from my own experience, we have really been trying to raise the academic level of the experience within the exhibitions such that when visitors come to the museum, which is inherently an educational institution, they are finding ways to both enjoy the art and to come away having learned a lot more about it intellectually as well as amusingly.”
Rich has overseen many exhibitions and hosted many gallery talks and tours as the curator. As someone who has been able to work on the ground level, he has personally seen as the museum has better facilitated guests, through both education and entertainment, with its enhancements provided through the college’s affiliation, and he expects the museum to keep improving its overall quality in the near future.
“Our big goals for moving forward are to just keep going on this great momentum moving forward in the last many, many years,” he said. “Especially in the last two years under this affiliation, we are moving on an upward trend and I think gaining more and more respect in the larger community.”
One of the ways the museum helps to engage the local community with art has been its annual art festival, Mayfaire-By-The Lake, which will be hosting its 48th annual event this weekend. This year’s event will be featuring a new title sponsor, Citizens Bank And Trust, and showcasing 46 new artists.
One of the more regular artists is Mike Green, a graphic designer from St. Petersburg who specializes in bold lines, bright pastel colors, and Florida nostalgia. As someone who travels often, he often receives inspirations from the many sights he sees while on the road.
“I get a lot of my ideas from traveling,” he said. “I am geared more towards Florida pieces, so I try to give an old advertisement look to them.”
This year marks the ninth time he has visited Mayfaire. The biggest draw for him is being able to meet many old customers and providing them with his latest artwork. Though he has never visited the museum, he appreciates how it helps bring together artists and art lovers such as himself through events like this.
“It is great that they can help.” he said. “Quality wise, it is a really good show, with real quality work, and it is great that they can host it.”
The Polk Museum of Art is located at 800 E Palmetto St, Lakeland, FL 33801. The museum is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays (closed on Mondays) and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call 863-688-7743, or visit their website at https://polkmuseumofart.org/
Mayfaire-By-The-Lake will be hosted along the shore of Lake Morton in Downtown Lakeland on Sat., May 11 and Sun., May 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit their website at: https://www.mayfairebythelake.org/