Various venues • Maine •

By: Carl Little

1989 011 langlais monitor colbymuseum1
Bernard Langlais, The Monitor or the Merrimack (Gull On Pile), 1961,
raw and painted wood, screws, 36 x 48 x 5 3/ 8 “. Colby College Museum
of Art, Gift of Mrs. Bernard Langlais.

In 2010 Helen Friend Langlais bequeathed a vast trove of drawings, paintings and all manner of sculptural works by her husband, sculptor Bernard “Blackie” Langlais (1921–77), to the Colby College Museum of Art. Known for his animals—from balancing dogs to Andre the seal—and large-scale figures—Richard Nixon, Christina of Wyeth fame—the artist from Old Town, Maine, was prolific. After acquiring 180 works for its collection, the Colby Museum gave nearly 3,000 works to the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation to preserve and distribute.

On both fronts Kohler has come through. They have tackled the preservation of Langlais’s work with consummate care, going to almost extreme ends to rescue wood pieces from the ravages of weather. They have also found homes for his work: Just over 50 nonprofits are now part of the Langlais Art Trail.

The trail stretches from the Rice Public Library in Kittery in the south to the University of Maine at Presque Isle in the north, from the Western Foothills Land Trust’s Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway to the Tides Institute & Museum of Art in Eastport. While some pieces have been stored away for future viewing, many have been sited in public spaces, from the lobby of the Waterville Opera House to the Sam L. Cohen Children’s Library at the Portland Public Library where you’ll find Langlais’s charming wood wall relief elephant.

Helen Langlais’s bequest included the couple’s 90-acre property in Cushing, part of which her husband had transformed into a sculpture park. In 2014 the Kohler Foundation turned it over to the Georges River Land Trust to manage. This fall, the Trust will be opening it to the public as the Langlais Sculpture Preserve.

Langlais’s work was already on prominent display in Maine; his 62-foot-tall Indian in Skowhegan is one of the state’s most renowned roadside attractions. With the gift of 25 Langlais sculptures, the county seat of Somerset County is now a major stop on the trail. The Falling Woman tumbles from the sky in the municipal parking lot while The Seated Woman is enthroned near the Somerset Grist Mill.

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