Ted Chaffee grew up a few doors down from Bernard Langlais’ estate in Cushing. The town of about 1,500 people was “basically just a road” in the late 1950s when Chaffee, now 62 and the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Gardiner, was in high school, but he remembers it as a place where artists like Langlais, a sculptor and painter, were welcomed and respected.

“You either lived on that street or one of a few others but there really wasn’t a village,” said Chaffee. “I never actually carried on a conversation with him but I’d wave when I rode my bicycle by, that kind of thing. My brother would knock on his door and sell magazines for fundraisers. We knew he was an artist and his work had been shown at big art museums in New York.”

Langlais, who died in 1977, was raised in Old Town and studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. He spent the early part of his career in New York City before buying a summer home in Cushing, on the mid-coast, and moving there permanently with his wife Helen in 1966.

He built life-size and larger than life-size wooden sculptures — mostly of animals — as well as creating other art that numbered in the thousands, most of which remained on the estate until after Helen’s death in 2010, when it was donated to Colby College in Waterville.

“I’ve always had a personal interest in them,” said Chaffee, who said he leapt at the opportunity to bring a few of Langlais’ more than 3,000 works to his church in Gardiner after hearing that the college, in conjunction with a Wisconsin-based non-profit group, was looking to place them at non-profit organizations around the state.

Along with dozens of others, Chaffee returned to Cushing last winter to sort through the Langlais estate and ultimately secured four works for the church, including an eight-foot by eight-foot wood relief carving of the animals of Noah’s Ark.

The church in Gardiner is one of 48 organizations including schools, libraries, museums and universities in Maine to become a part of the Langlais Art Trail, a digital trail of Langlais’ work at installations around the state. There are also two in Wisconsin and one in Connecticut.

The trail officially launches this weekend along with a new exhibit at Colby College displaying about 190 works of the collection.

The works will be in places like the China Town Office, the Canaan Public Library and the Starks Community Center, as well as the Colby College Art Museum, which re-opened almost one year ago with a $15 million addition and 500 new works gifted to the college by Peter and Paula Lunder.

The project is the culmination of about four years of work sorting through the Langlais estate, curating the large collection of about 3,500 works and trying to find a way to bring them to as many people as possible.

The collection was left to the Colby museum by Helen Friend Langlais, who was a longtime friend of Hugh Gourley, a director of the museum for nearly four decades, but the number of works opened up the possibility that they could be shared around the state and the college partnered with the Kohler Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group, to help preserve and distribute the works.

The Colby exhibit, which opens on Saturday and runs through Jan. 4, displays about 190 of Langlais’ works, including his early work as a painter while on a Fulbright scholarship in Norway in the mid-1950s through his transition from painting to wood sculpture, something he began exploring in the late 1950s while at his summer home in Cushing.

Less than a year after the foundation announced it was looking to place the art around the state, nearly all the remaining works have found homes, almost all of them in Maine.

“We were immediately drawn to the art and felt it warranted immediate preservation,” said Terri Yoho, executive director of the Kohler Foundation Inc. “There were thousands of pieces and as soon as people found out that we were looking to preserve them people sought us out. There was just an incredible amount of enthusiasm around his art.”

At Main Street Skowhegan, a group dedicated to revitalizing the town’s downtown, 25 Langlais works will join the Skowhegan Indian, a 62-foot wooden sculpture of an American Indian built by Langlais in 1969, in locations including the Town Office and the Somerset Grist Mill.

“It’s about increasing the aesthetic of downtown to make downtown Skowhegan a more attractive place to visit,” said Dugan Murphy, the executive director of Main Street Skowhegan. “The Skowhegan Indian is already an attraction for visitors because it’s a noteworthy sculpture. With these 25 additional sculptures it will be that much more of a reason for people to come to town and see Bernard Langlais’ other works because you’ll be able to walk from place to place. It will be sort of a multi-site museum.”

In nearby Canaan, a new public library that is scheduled to open this fall will house nine sculptures and one painting. Candy Soll, president of the Canaan Public Library Board of Trustees, said she had heard of Langlais’ work through a friend who was connected to Helen Langlais’ family. She traveled to the Cushing estate last spring to select works for the library.

“Langlais has followers all over the world,” said Soll. “People will want to know where his works are and I’m sure they will follow the trail. The Skowhegan library has some, we have some, and now people can follow the trail and see them. It’s going to be a great asset to the state of Maine.”

In Gardiner, crews from the museum came to the First Baptist Church to help hang the four wooden carvings in exchange for lunch at A1 Diner, something Chaffee said they were happy to provide. The mural of Noah’s Ark hangs in the entry to the fellowship room.

“Fine art like this speaks to the soul,” said Chaffee. “When people are exposed to fine art regularly it challenges their ideas, deepens their thoughts and we hope deepens their faith. Over time I think these works will have a significant impact on the people in this church — the people who are living with them.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]


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