Polka Landscape of Kalamazoo River

This painting by John Polka (1930-2006), Sailing on the Kalamazoo, came in with a hole caused by an abrasion, as well as the surface covered by tar and nicotine contaminates.

From the reverse, the threads of canvas along the abrasion were re-weaved and adhered with a restorer’s adhesive. A finishing coat was then applied consisting of an acrylic material that has the ability to consolidate and dry clear. In-painting was then carried out on the front to conceal the area. Careful cleaning lifted the tar, nicotine, and dirt impurities from the paint film; this revealed the brighter, original colors. Conservation varnish finished the restoration.

John Polka came from a family of Hoteliers in Europe. He received his early training in Germany at a health spa his father ran. The family was there at the time of the outbreak of World War II, and were subsequently stuck there. To keep busy, Pollka began to paint with the director, who was a summer painter, and later with a professional artist who had fled Berlin. Polka often painted large canvases of Victorian era ladies and flowers in a romantic style. Eventually, he made his way to Saugatuck and was an instrumental art figure, opening the Polka Gallery on Water street.

During his 30 years in Saugatuck his style changed, as well as his subjects. Finely-painted details gave way to broad stokes and impressionistic drawings with bold colors and hazy outlines. His dunes were done with surprising colors: gold trees and magenta sand.

Recordings of his interviews as well as his artwork can be found at the Old School House in Douglas, Michigan.

The Old School House 

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