SKOWHEGAN — A 10-foot-long black panther is frozen in time — mid-stride — high atop a book shelf at the Skowhegan Free Public Library.
The wooden sculpture and two other pieces by Maine artist Bernard Langlais arrived at the library this week as part of a town-wide project to display his art in the hope of attracting more visitors to Skowhegan.
“It’s heavy — it took three of us to put it up there,” Library Director Dale Jandreau said of the panther. “It’s an old barn beam, you can see the holes where the pins used to be. The panther has real wooden teeth.”
Sixteen pieces of sculpture by the artist best known for the Skowhegan Indian are already in storage at the restored Grange hall nearby. Nine more pieces are on the way, all of which to be part of a Langlais art walk to town-owned locations, including the recreation center, the Town Office and the Grist Mill.
Outdoor pieces will be placed in the municipal parking lot, where tree-lined walkways, benches and grassy areas will be built if and when phase two of a downtown revitalization grant is received.
“The overall plan is having a map laid out when they are all in place,” Jandreau said. “A visitor will come here, get a map and go to each site and look at all of these sculptures. People have been seeing the Skowhegan Indian for years, now all of a sudden they get to see some his other work.”
Langlais, who died in 1977, was born in Old Town and is best known for making oversized wooden sculptures such as the 62-foot tall 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.
The panther, along with a brightly colored exotic bird and a small sculpture of a cow in a barn stall, have been restored at the 90-acre former Langlais estate in Cushing, by people from Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation.
Many of the Langlais objects are made from pieces of plywood, which are layered and sculpted, then nailed, glued and then painted.
“He was known for using scrap materials. Whatever that was lying around — barn beams, plywood,” said Dugan Murphy, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan.
The Main Street group owns all of the Langlais art — except the Indian, which is owned by the Chamber of Commerce — and is arranging to lend them to various institutions around Skowhegan.
Another Langlais piece, a small model of the Skowhegan Indian sculpture, is on display at the Main Street Skowhegan office on Water Street.
“We’re working on fundraising now for the map to show where they all are — plaques to describe each one in the context of the greater collection,” Murphy said.
A portion of the Langlais collection of nearly 3,000 pieces was willed to Colby College in Waterville by the artist’s wife, Helen, upon her death in 2010. Colby then donated the collection and the Langlais estate to the Kohler Foundation, a group focused on art preservation, 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 in Cushing, which is on the coast in Knox County. 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.
Murphy said Main Street Skowhegan is working with Wesserunsett Arts Council, Skowhegan Performing Arts and the Chamber of Commerce to apply for a $70,000 grant over three years from the Maine Arts Commission to potentially pay for a part time paid position of arts coordinator. The application is due this fall and if granted, would be available sometime in 2015.