Robert Stackhouse is the most widely respected visual artist to have called Polk County home. He was born in Bronxville, New York in 1942, but moved to Polk County in 1954 to live with his grandparents. He lived at Lundy’s Fish Camp in Auburndale, graduating from Auburndale High School in 1960. Summers and evenings after school were spent on Lake Juliana, hunting and fishing, rowing his boat, watching for alligators, water moccasins and cottonmouth snakes. After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of South Florida in 1965—as part of the first graduating class of art students at the school—and his Master’s Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1967, he began teaching at the Corcoran Gallery School of Art in Washington DC.
Stackhouse quickly achieved a reputation as an important young sculptor and rose to national prominence after his one-man show at Max Hutchinson’s Sculpture Now Gallery, in New York in 1976. During his career, he has been honored with more than seventy one-person exhibitions. He has served as a visiting artist and professor of art at colleges, universities, and art schools across North America including the Cleveland Institute of Art, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Art Gallery of Toronto. He has installed more than thirty permanent displays of his work in outdoor and indoor venues across the country and in Australia. His work has been collected by prestigious museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
This thirty-year retrospective, organized by Polk Museum of Art from the John and Maxine Belger Family Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, traces the roots of some of his most widely known imagery—boats and snakes—to his formative years in Polk County. Stackhouse has become acclaimed for his sculptures, paintings and prints, examples of which are included in this exhibition. Swimmers and Floaters refers to the snakes and boats featured in much of his work, both of which embedded themselves in his consciousness during his teen years on Lake Juliana in Auburndale. The snakes and boats of his youth have taken on mythic importance and increased psychological power as Stackhouse has refined these images over the years. Among the more imposing works included in the exhibition are the 40’ long Great Rain Snake sculpture made of oak and Dragon Fight, a 16’-wide watercolor painting featuring an image of a Viking ship overlaying an enormous serpent.