SKOWHEGAN — Big wooden sculptures — a horse, a camel, a tiger, a donkey, a bear and other creatures — appear to quietly roam the walls of the Renaissance Center on Water Street.

The downtown display of sculptures is a stop along the state’s Bernard Langlais art trail.

“Because we brought all these animals into one place, it’s sort of like a temporary zoo at the Renaissance Center,” said builder Steve Dionne, whose company is restoring Langlais’ most recognized sculpture — the 62-foot Skowhegan Indian.

“He just loved doing carved animals. I think they look fantastic, they really pop — they stand out — against that nice white background, and this is great place to show them.”

A portion of the late artist’s collection of about 3,500 pieces was willed to Colby College in Waterville by Langlais’ wife, Helen, upon her death in 2010. Colby then donated the collection and the Langlais estate in Cushing to the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation, a group focused on art preservation. Kohler is distributing the pieces to non-profit groups, including Main Street Skowhegan, a downtown revitalization group, for permanent display.

The Colby Museum of Art retained about 190 pieces, which are on display through Jan. 4.

“Skowhegan was lucky to be the recipient of more art than anyone except for Colby because Helen Friend — Helen Langlais — was from Skowhegan,” Dionne said Thursday. “We got more pieces than any other community. Quite a few communities got a lot of his small stuff, but as far as big stuff coming to town, we hit the jackpot.”

Langlais, who died in 1977, studied and later taught at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.

Dionne said Margi Browne, a member of the Main Street Skowhegan board, and artists Abby Shahn and Barbara Sullivan traveled to the Langlais estate in Cushing last summer to gather ideas of what pieces could be brought to Skowhegan.

“Margi went down and they just pointed to the ones they would like to have,” Dionne said. “Luckily they got there early on in the process and I think all but a couple of what they chose we got. I believe there are 25 in all.”

The pieces, all made between 1970 and 1976 from scrap plywood and barn board, were mounted Thursday by members of Main Street Skowhegan.

Another large three dimensional wooden piece called “Jungle Group” has been mounted in a case for permanent display in the walkway next to the Renaissance Center connecting Water Street with Commercial Street.

The space for the Langlais art is donated by the Skowhegan Economic Development Corp., which owns the Renaissance Center. Community development director Jeff Hewett suggested the idea for the display, Dionne said.

Some of the pieces in the Renaissance Center eventually will hang in the Skowhegan Grange hall on Pleasant Street, which was purchased and restored by Dionne and Amber Lambke, co-founder of the Skowhegan Grist Mill in the former county jail nearby. Other pieces locally will be exhibited at the Skowhegan Town Office, the Chamber of Commerce building, the public library and the town recreation center, where two large sports-themed sculptures will be displayed.

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.

Dugan Murphy, executive director at Main Street Skowhegan, said Skowhegan selectmen this week gave the group authority to construct a small, landscaped park in front of the Indian as part of the Langlais art walk. The restoration work on the Indian sculpture is expected to be done in about two weeks. The makeover of the municipal parking lot downtown also connects to the Indian and the hopes for the town of Skowhegan to become a tourist destination, Murphy said.

“Having the work done to the parking lot has been an aesthetic improvement, but it’s also just raised our profile in the region,” he said. “The Langlais sculptures that we’ve received, complementing the Skowhegan Indian sculpture that’s already in town, makes us well situated in what has become a statewide Langlais art trail.

“We’re sort of a Langlais destination in the quantity of sculptures we have in Skowhegan, especially so many of them being concentrated in a walkable downtown district. I don’t think there are any other communities in Maine that can boast that.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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