In the 1980s the Polk Museum narrowed its collection focus to fine art. It then launched an initiative with the goal of preserving and collecting works of fine art from around to world for future generations. Today, the Polk Museum of Art has an impressive and diverse collection of fine and decorative art. The permanent collection has nearly 2,500 objects ranging ancient to contemporary. The following are a few examples of the works that are part of the Museum’s permanent collection.
Martaban jars are traditional storage vessels named for the seaport in Burma (Myanmar) where this style of jar is believed to have originated. They were originally used to store provisions such as oil, wine, fruits, pickles, or water. They were also often used to transport supplies along Chinese trade routes. The surfaces of Martaban jars often include depictions of dragons from ancient Chinese mythology. This jar’s midriff is decorated with a rather simple dragon motif. At the top of the jar, the monkeys’ heads would have originally held ropes for carrying the jar.
Graciela Iturbide is one of Mexico’s most celebrated photographers. She studied photography at the Universidad National Autónama de México. Her modernist approach to photography was greatly influenced by the renowned Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo, for whom she was the assistant during the early 1970s. Much of Iturbide’s early work documented the lives of Mexico’s indigenous population, including the Seri Indians along the Mexico/U.S. border and the Juchitán peoples in southern Mexico. These important portfolios led to Iturbide receiving invitations to work in Cuba, East Germany, India, Madagascar, Hungary, Paris and the United States. Iturbide has been the recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Foundation Award, 1987; the Grand Prize Mois de la Photo, Paris, 1988; a Guggenheim Fellowship, 1988; the International Grand Prize, Hokkaido, Japan, 1990; the Hasselblad Award, 2008; the National Prize of Sciences and Arts in Mexico City, 2008; an Honorary Degree in photography from Columbia College Chicago, 2008; and an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, 2009.
Syd Solomon studied at the Art Institute of Chicago until he was enlisted to help create camouflage for the California coast following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Later he was instrumental in developing camouflage systems for the British coast and desert wars in Northern Africa. Following WWII, he attended studio sessions at L’Ecole des Beaux- Arts in Paris where he began experimenting with abstract compositions. He often claimed that his aerial reconnaissance during the war influenced his ideas about abstraction.
After moving to Sarasota, FL in 1946, Solomon’s work began to gain attention from curators and collectors. At the suggestion of Alfred Barr, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Ringling Museum of Art acquired works by Solomon, making him the first contemporary artist included in the Ringling collection.
Solomon reached the apex of his career in the 1960s when he won numerous awards and was sought after by The Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, and many other nationally prominent museums. He also founded the Institute of Fine Art at New College in Sarasota and is credited with bringing many nationally known artists to Florida.