SKOWHEGAN — Fifteen new sculptures by Maine artist Bernard Langlais have arrived for public display in Skowhegan in recent weeks in advance of the dedication of Langlais Park on Aug. 8.

The park and a total of 25 Langlais art pieces in Skowhegan, including the iconic 62-foot Skowhegan Indian sculpture downtown, puts the town squarely on the map of the Langlais Art Trail, according to project organizers.

In a statewide appreciation of the late artist, Skowhegan joins Colby College in Waterville, the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the Langlais estate in Cushing, where many of the objects are restored by the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation, a group focused on art preservation.

New arrivals include the “The Falling Woman” at the Commercial Street entrance of the municipal parking lot; “The Seated Woman” near the Somerset Grist Mill; and “The Playground Animal Group” near the Skowhegan Indian. Other pieces are on display at the Skowhegan Town Office, the Main Street Skowhegan office, the public library and the Chamber of Commerce building.

Three more — including the 20-foot-tall “Basketball Player,” the large “Football Group” and “The Mermaid,” which is still in a packing crate in the restored former Skowhegan Grange Hall on Pleasant Street — have yet to be placed for public viewing.

“I think it’s important to Skowhegan because his biggest work, the Skowhegan Indian, has gained iconic status for the community,” said Dugan Murphy, executive director of Skowhegan Main Street. “So to be blessed with this additional collection of Langlais sculptures we’re able to even more celebrate his impact here in Skowhegan.”

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 and taught 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 Indian was dedicated two years later and was restored last year in a statewide fundraising effort with no local money used for the project.

“He certainly was one of a kind for the state of Maine,” said builder Steve Dionne, of Skowhegan, who has been restoring some of the Langlais pieces locally. “I don’t believe there has been any other sculptor who did the same type of impressionist art on this scale. Other than maybe Andrew Wyeth, he would be Maine’s most famous artist.”

Another local connection to the artist is the fact that his wife, Helen, was a Skowhegan native.

A portion of the Langlais collection of about 3,500 pieces was willed to Colby College in Waterville by his wife upon her death in 2010. Colby then donated the collection and the Langlais estate grounds in Cushing to the Kohler Foundation. Many of those works are now at locations around Maine as part of the Langlais Trail.

The Langlais art trail also includes the Pittsfield library and the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments office in Fairfield, according to Murphy.

“Other town offices, libraries and civic groups around Maine have one or two sculptures each,” he said. “In Skowhegan, as a downtown-based organization, we decided to spread them around downtown.”

All of the sculptures are still owned by the Kohler Foundation, except the Skowhegan Indian, which is owned by the local Chamber of Commerce. Main Street Skowhegan is tasked with placing and maintaining the 25 art pieces for public display.

All of the sculptures are made from collected, recycled and found pieces of wood — including full size utility poles, barn boards and beams and recycled plaster wood lath.

Dionne and his crew had to use a crane to lower the “Falling Woman” with its heavy concrete back into place in the ground. He and his company currently are restoring the “Basketball Player.” The “Football Players Group” is to be installed outdoors at the Skowhegan Community Center.

Langlais’ “Seated Woman” has generated some unexpected attention as it sits almost 6 feet tall next to the Somerset Grist Mill. Murphy said people commenting on the Skowhegan Indian restoration and the Main Street pages on Facebook have objected to the fact that the woman’s bare bosom — which is wooden — is not properly covered.

“There has been mixed reaction,” Murphy said. “Some people are really excited about it, and some people’s initial reaction focuses on the anatomy of the sculpture.”

What people don’t understand, Murphy said, is that Langlais was a whimsical artist.

“Typically it’s the breasts,” he said. “It’s been people asking why are there exposed breasts in town, that kind of thing. It’s all online comments. No one has approached me personally with any negative comments.”

Skowhegan selectmen approved the name Langlais Park in May. The park includes public land in front of the Skowhegan Indian and new signs in English and in French explaining the origin of the statue, the restoration of the Indian and a short biography of the artist, Bernard Langlais. The parking lot has been redesigned with new paving and parking stripes.

The park also includes shrubbery and donated plants from herbalist Gail Edwards, of Athens, for an educational garden made of edible and medicinal plants that indigenous people would have used. There also is a granite bench and a paved viewing area.

During the dedication of the park at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, there will be multiple speakers and a formal grand opening to be followed by a walking tour of all 25 of the Langlais sculptures in Skowhegan.

“The collection of Langlais art pieces ties into that statewide Langlais art trail. Skowhegan’s firmly on that map,” Murphy said. “People who are interested in sculpture, but especially in Bernard Langlais, they now have extra reasons to come to Skowhegan.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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