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Working alongside the angels

A roofer from McCabe Roofing of Hokah, Minn., works on the roof of the Mary of the Angels Chapel on Friday at St. Rose Convent on La Crosse in this March 23 photo.

The photo depicting the roofing work on Mary of Angels Chapel (March 24 Tribune) is perhaps the clearest perspective of the statue of St. Michael your readers will ever see — unless they mount the scaffold themselves.

And thereby hangs a tale, for the maker of that statue has a remarkable history.

lt's the work of Albin Polasek, a Moravian immigrant who came to this country in 1901. Because he had apprenticed in wood carving in Vienna, he knew exactly where his skill would be appreciated — at the Egid Hackner Altar Works in La Crosse.

And it wasn’t long before he was put to work on Hackner’s then-current project, the Maria Angelorum Chapel. Polasek’s memorable work there is that statue in the photo, located halfway up the west outer wall of the chapel.

After four years with Hackner, he went on to formal art training at the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia. It was there he sculpted his defining work, “Man Chiseling His Own Destiny.”

In 1910, he won the Prix de Rome award, which afforded him three years further study at the American Academy in Rome. On his return he set up a studio in New York City.

In 1916, he was named head of the sculpture department at the Art Institute of Chicago. Perhaps his most famous sculpture is “Mother Crying Over the World,” which he completed in 1941.

Polasek later retired to Winter Park, Fla., his home eventually becoming a museum. He died in 1965, but his museum lives on, a distinction not many La Crosse people can boast of.

Richard Boudreau, La Crosse