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  • Ellen Mirro

Artist Albin Polasek and the 1932 Time Capsule

In our second post about the Historic Structure Report we recently completed of the former office and laboratory building of the Superior Portland Cement Company we talked about some of the plant’s connections with Seattle capitalists. Another interesting story concerns the Safety Award Monument that stands to the northeast of the building.

Superior Portland Cement Company Safety Award Monument (TJP)

Accidents resulting in serious injury or death at cement plants were common, and Superior’s Concrete plant was no exception. The American Portland Cement Manufacturer’s Association (now Portland Cement Association), began collecting accident information from its member companies in 1912, and began standardization of accident reporting in 1916. In an effort to reduce accidents, the association began setting goals to have “No Accident Weeks,” then “No Accident Months.” Beginning in 1921, the Association initiated a “No Accident Month Campaign,” and awarded a trophy for the first time to a plant having the best safety record from July 1 through December 31, 1921, after which the award was given to the plant with the best record for one full year. Any plant winning the trophy twice was entitled to keep it.

Sometime prior to 1923, a competition was held to create the “Safety Follows Wisdom” design, and the winner was a small team of artists from the Art Institute in Chicago working under the guidance of well-known sculptor, Albin Polasek (1879 -1965). Polasek’s design is still used in the Safety Awards program today.

Albin Polasek in his studio (courtesy Albin Polesesk Museum)

Albin Polasek was born in 1879, in Frenstat, Moravia (now Czech Republic). He apprenticed as a wood­carver in Vienna before immigrating to the United States in 1901. He worked in the Mid-West as a wood­carver before entering the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Here, Polasek learned traditional classical techniques of sculpting under the tutelage of sculptor Charles Grafly, while developing his own distinct style. As a student he first created Man Carving His Own Destiny (1907) and Eternal Moment (1909), two of his earliest well-known sculptures. In 1910, Polasek won the Prix de Rome competition, which granted him a three‑year fellowship at the American Academy of Art in Rome. After completing his studies in Italy, Polasek set up a studio in New York City. In 1916, at the age of 37, he was invited to head the Sculpture Department at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he remained for nearly thirty years. Large public commissions followed, including the Theodore Thomas Memorial (1924) and the Masaryk Memorial (1941) in Chicago, and the Wilson Monument (1928), Radigast (1931) and Sts. Cyril and Methodius (1931) in the Czech Republic. His poignant Mother Crying Over the World (1942) created a world standard for depicting the grief and horror of World War II.

Mother Crying Over the World, Albin Polasek, Bronze 1942 (courtesy Albin Polesesk Museum)

In response to the many accidents at the plant, Superior organized a Safety Committee made up of plant management and workers that attempted to address plant safety hazards. The Superior Plant received its award monument in 1931, which was erected on the site in 1932, and received other awards in subsequent years.

The 1932 monument also held a time capsule that was opened by the Town of Concrete on August 16, 2009. In the steel box held in the monument base was a sample of cement from the plant, a roster of plant employees, a safety flag, amongst other period ephemera.

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