SKOWHEGAN — A 12-foot-tall wooden sculpture of scrambling football players and an early model of Skowhegan’s iconic Indian sculpture will be coming to town soon for permanent public display.
More than 20 art pieces by Maine artist Bernard Langlais are to be donated to the town through Main Street Skowhegan, a downtown revitalization group, as part of an agreement with the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation.
The Skowhegan Board of Selectmen approved placement today of several of the pieces on town-owned property. All of the liability insurance will be covered by the town’s policy and with a rider from Main Street’s plan.
“I think it’s wonderful to have art in the community to be a better place for children to grow,” Chairwoman Betty Austin said.
A portion of the Langlais collection of nearly 3,000 pieces was willed to Colby College by the artist’s wife, Helen, upon her death in 2010. Colby then donated the collection and 90-acre estate in Cushing to the foundation for a museum, according to Hannah Blunt, Langlais curator for special projects at the Colby Museum of Art. Colby has retained about 200 pieces.
Some of the items will remain at the Langlais home in Cushing, where the couple lived. The rest will be given to nonprofit museums, colleges and other public institutions in Maine and around the country, including Main Street Skowhegan.
The agreement with Main Street was brokered in part by board member Margie Brown, who visited the Cushing estate with local artists after it was announced that Kohler was proposing to donate much of the Langlais collection.
“Kohler is taking all of this artwork that wasn’t taken by Colby College and making it available to nonprofits who can prove they have a plan to maintain them and have a good place to put them so they could be viewed publicly,” said Main Street committee member Steve Dionne. “There are more than 2,000 works of art at his house — inside, outside, everywhere you looked. He was an incredibly busy man.”
Colby College contacted the Kohler Foundation and turned over the estate and the Langlais collection to Kohler, a group focused on art preservation, said Susan Kelly, preservation coordinator at Kohler.
“We haven’t had everything appraised yet, but they are highly collectable,” Kelly said today. “There was just a sale in a gallery in New York of some of his large wood-relief pieces. They were sold for thousands of dollars.”
Of the 25 or 26 Langlais pieces, 11 of them would be placed in public places, including the Skowhegan Recreation Center, the Town Office, the new municipal parking lot when it’s completed and the Renaissance Building on Water Street, Dionne said.
Other pieces could go to Coburn Park, the public library, the Grist Mill and the refurbished Grange hall, which is owned by Dionne and Grist Mill owner Amber Lambke.
Langlais, who died in 1977, was born in Old Town and is best known for making oversized wooden sculptures such as the Skowhegan Indian. He studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, moved to New York and made a name for himself there in the 1950s. He returned to Maine in 1966.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367