HINCKLEY — Sharp teeth, glaring eyes, a thick mane and paws ready to pounce.

The “Caged Lion,” an imposing wooden sculpture by Maine artist Bernard Langlais, arrived safe and sound by truck Tuesday on the front lawn of the L.C. Bates Museum at Good Will-Hinckley.

The 12-foot-tall, 10-foot-long piece completed in 1976-77 was created in the whimsical style of the late artist best known for his iconic 62-foot-tall Skowhegan Indian sculpture.

The lion adds to the many objects along the Langlais Art Trail which runs through Skowhegan, Canaan, Pittsfield, Waterville, Winslow, Portland and dozens of other locations in Maine. The “Caged Lion” is facing U.S. Route 201, about 200 feet from the roadside.

Ron Harvey, of Lincolnville, a conservator dealing with the long-term care, treatment and preservation of some of the Langlais outdoor pieces, said any time a Langlais lion appears, it shows the face of the artist himself.

“Almost every lion you see of Langlais is like a self portrait,” Harvey said. “If you look at some of the older pictures of Langlais, he’s got kind of a mane of hair and he was a powerful force to be reckoned with, even though he was a smaller man. The lions are all definitely him.”

The sculpture is almost a life-sized lion, Harvey said as Pro Moving Service of Winslow worked Tuesday morning to move the cage from a low trailer into place while the lion slept, waiting in a nearby truck.

Harvey said the lion was carved from a single large beam about 18 inches square and about 5 feet in length. The legs, the mane and the tail are attachments to the main lion.

“Remember that Blackie was a Mainer,” he said, using Langlais’ nickname. “So the wood is scavenged, traded, reused — re-purposed.”

Harvey said the first time he saw the lion was during a visit to the Langlais estate in Cushing.

“What’s interesting about the lion is that if you looked at the mouth, it looked like it was drooling,” he said. “The resins in the pine were just oozing. So think of repurpose — these large beams usually came out of old industrial buildings or mills and were really resin rich, which means it’s better in terms of preservation.”

All of the Langlais 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.

Harvey said the “Caged Lion” was fashioned a year before Langlais died in 1977.

Born in Old Town, Langlais 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 and 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 in a statewide fundraising effort in 2013 with no local money used for the project.

Langlais’ 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 Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation, a group focused on art preservation. Many of those works are now at locations around Maine as part of the Langlais Trail.

All of the sculptures are still owned by the Kohler Foundation except the Skowhegan Indian, which is owned by the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce.

Main Street Skowhegan placed and is maintaining 25 Langlais art pieces for public display with restoration work done by local builder Steve Dionne. The Skowhegan pieces 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” and “The Mermaid” — also are on display in Skowhegan. The large “Football Group” will be installed later this month.

“He certainly was one of a kind for the state of Maine,” Dionne said after some of the pieces were placed in Skowhegan. “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.”

Harvey said Pro Moving Services had a four-man crew using rollers, blocks, skids, ramps and plywood to move the cage from the trailer to the prepared site where it was attached to concrete footings. The lion later was moved from the truck into the cage.

“It’s an engineering feat,” he said of the physics required to complete the move.

Good Will-Hinckley President Ken Coville said museum director Deb Stabler worked with the Kohler Foundation to acquire some of the Langlais pieces. The museum already had four pieces before the arrival of the “Caged Lion.”

“We want to expand the collection in the Langlais trail through Maine,” Coville said from the site Tuesday.

Margi Browne, a member of the board of directors at Main Street Skowhegan, which has brought 25 Langlais pieces to town, said the work of the Maine artist teaches children and adults alike that art is part of everyday life, no matter where you live.

“I think it’s really important for communities like ours to have public art, because it helps kids learn that art isn’t an afterthought. It’s not a luxury,” Browne said. “It’s a necessity. It’s a gateway. It’s the jumping off point for kids to excel at anything they choose to do. It’s them thinking that they can do whatever it is they want to do.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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