Long Live Bernard Langlais!

One more Mid Coast Maine post (It’s summer in New England, after all–no reason to travel any further than Maine).

Years ago (actually, eons ago) I turned off Rte 1 from Thomaston, Maine and was heading down the Cushing peninsula in search of the home and studio of Bernard Langlais. I was just starting my own career as a sculptor and my parents had recommended I have a look at Langlais’s “roadside attraction”. I had no idea where exactly I would find this ( pre cell phone, pre google map days). But still, I knew Cushing was just a speck on the map , so how hard would the Langlais property be to find? Turns out–not hard at all! The road dipped and inclined and suddenly the Trojan Horse my parents had described rose up on the side of the road.We screeched to a halt and tumbled out of the car.

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This magnificent sculpture is the first work that Bernard Langlais built when he moved back to his home state of Maine (he was born in Old Town in 1921). He had recently moved (in the 1960’s) from New York and was leaving behind a very successful big city career (exhibiting at Leo Castelli Gallery, no less). For the next 25 years or so Langlais worked on populating his 90 acre property with all manner of animals and figures: whimsical, poignant, monumental and even political. I could just feel the boundless joy in his making of these pieces, up in Maine, as he pleased, away from the rat race and roller coaster of the NY art world. Walking through these works was a revelation to me. Since then I have sought out and visited many artists’ built environments, but this was my first, and well, you know how that goes–the first blush of love…

For this post I’ve scanned my old slides, thus the quality of the images is a wee compromised. Still the images are worth sharing as at the time when I photographed these sculptures (in 1978, the year after Bernard Langlais died) the paint was still fresh and the wood still sound. Have a look at these images and then read the exciting news about the Langlais estate…

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Excellent reuse of an old bathtub!

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Finest rendition of Tricky Dick I’ve ever seen. Langlais made this piece shortly after Nixon’s resignation. It is, of course, based the image on the infamous scene of Nixon’s last “salute” as he boarded the helicopter for his departure from the White House. I love that the bottom half of the figure is submerged in this murky farm pond.

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My favorite piece of Langlais’s, a depiction of Christina Olson, (of Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World” fame). Turned out that the Langlais property is more or less across the street from the Olson property where Wyeth painted the iconic image of Christina sitting in her family field. Finally, with Bernard Langlais’s sculpture, we can see Christina’s face! And, yes, she IS a beauty!

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Another beauty–this one a mermaid.

And animals of all kinds everywhere:

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Oh, another glance of Christina to the left of the elephant.

I think we can assume Langlais was a sports lover:Bernard_Langlais012

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The real live horse in this bottom image helps give you an idea of the scale of Langlais’s work!

I’ve worried about these sculptures over the past 35+ years. Maine winters are tough on wooden sculptures, and I wondered what would happen to his property after Langlais’s wife died? Suddenly one day there was news–GOOD news!

In 2010 Bernard Langlais’s widow, Helen, gifted 3000 of Langlais’s artwork plus the 90 acre property to Colby College Museum of ArtHannah Blunt, Colby College Museum assistant curator took up residence at the Langlais estate for a couple of years (lucky her!) to undertake the enormous task of inventorying and assessing the collection. Here’s a wonderful video interview with Blunt describing this work: https://vimeo.com/86360086.

Blunt contacted the Kohler Foundation in Wisconsin to see if they might be interested in partnering with Colby College in preserving the legacy of Langlais as they have done with a large number of other (mainly Wisconsin  outsider/folk) artists’ environments. And following the model of care-taking that Kohler has established for themselves, once restoration was completed they partnered with a local organization –in this case, George’s River Land Trust, who has taken over the ownership and stewardship of the property.  Of the 3000 Langlais artworks , approximately10 of the most monumental sculptures, including the Trojan Horse, will remain on the Langlais property, open to the public beginning the fall of 2015. Hurray!

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Also of note: the rest of the nearly 3000 Langlais pieces gifted to Colby College have been placed in over 50 non-profit institutions throughout the state of Maine. One can access this information and visit the works using the map provided in the Langlais Art Trial website.

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