Art: A Full Plate In Polk County

By: Lucy Beebe Tobias

Museums and art galleries in Polk County lend a cultural richness to central Florida.

Artists and lakes go together like pasta and red wine. In central Florida's Lakes District, this pairing stirs up a satisfying feast for the senses.

I inhale a bouquet of large stationary swans painted by artists. The swan statues arch their necks just like the real swans as they walk across the road. Traffic stops in both directions to let them go by.

Perhaps they are on their way to nearby Polk Museum of Art. I'll join them. A covered walkway leads to the front door. Contemporary and historic exhibits inside beckon you in different directions, plus there's the lure of a gift shop and enclosed sculpture garden. And that's just the first floor.

The second floor houses more artwork and an art classroom. Like watching chefs prepare a meal in a kitchen, you can see students creating artwork.

Nearby Florida Southern College on Lake Hollingsworth contains the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world. Bring your camera for sure - this is truly art in architecture. A visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center on campus helps satisfy my appetite for all things Wright. As you tour the buildings, get up close to see how he peppers the concrete by playfully embedding bits of tiny colored glass.

After a short drive from Lakeland to Winter Haven, I'm walking up the stairs to the Ridge Art AssociationGallery, bustling with a full calendar of juried exhibits and events. I am surprised to find Theatre Winter Haven right across the hall. For people who want to add a side of fine art to their theater experience, the gallery is open one hour prior to show times, in addition to its normal hours.

Sampling more lakes and art, I find Lake Wales Arts Center in an old Spanish Mission-style church. Attached to the old building is the new Michael Crews Gallery. These beautifully lit paintings look luminous to me. I take my time exploring and admiring.

Downtown Lake Wales offers different fare. Ten murals grace the sides of old buildings, and alleyways have small wall paintings. More are on the way. Your maitre d' for the murals is Cliff Tonjes, owner of the True Value Hardware. I love his stories about how the murals came to be.

Historic Bok Sanctuary sits high on a hill in Lake Wales. The Visitor's Center has rotating art exhibits emphasizing Florida artists, which whets your appetite for walking the grounds and absorbing the natural masterpieces.

A short distance to the south, I discover the Frostproof Art League & Gallery has juried shows and a member's gallery.

As I head toward home, I can't help but wonder if I've missed anything else. One thing is for certain, though. There is no shortage of art museums, galleries, public art installations and festivals in Central Florida's Lakes District. And no reservations are necessary. Here you can feast to your heart's content. Personally, I'll be back for seconds.

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