By Carol McCracken (Post # 2,174)
Not many wooden sculptures from the thousands sculpted by artist Bernard Langlais remain at his modest home in Cushing, because more than 3,000 pieces have been gifted to more than 50 organizations – most of them remaining here in Maine. Both the Portland Museum of Art and the City of Portland have been recipients of his whimsical sculptures – mostly animals, but not all.
Until recently, the name Bernard Langlais, was not a household name. However, with the recent distribution of his pieces by the Kohler Foundation, Inc. (part of the bath and kitchen products company), news of his menagerie has traveled serendipitously. The on-going Colby College exhibit has contributed to that exposure. “It has been wonderful to see awareness grow for the work of Bernard Langlais, and I believe he and his wife Helen would be delighted to the response to his work,” emailed Terri Yoho, Executive Director of the Kohler Foundation. Tucked away on a slope in a scenic place on a narrow road near Thomaston, are the modest home and the 90 acres of woods that the hard-drinking Langlais and his wife Helen occupied while he reinvented himself from a talented painter residing in New York City into a creator of folk art in his native Maine. On a recent tour of some of the Langlais property, art conservator Ben Caguioa, said that he and two other conservators free lancing for Kohler have focused on fixing the rot and stabilizing the sculptures so their condition will not worsen.
There are two barns on the property which serve as workshops for the conservators and their team of technical assistants. One barn is large and detached from the house in the back. Caguioa believes that Langlais probably had that building constructed for this use. The other smaller workspace is attached to the house. Langlais sculpted his thousands of pieces from whatever wood he could find around him, as long as it was free said Caguioa. He used a wide variety of scavenged wood for his work from his 90 acre wood lot. His father had been a carpenter and Langlais learned the basics of woodworking from him. Langlais wasn’t trying to sell the huge outdoor pieces because they were so difficult to be moved from the property. Portland business owner, Jennifer Rockwell, who used to summer near the Langlais home, said: “It was always fun to come up at the start of the summer, because there were always new sculptures in his front yard. It was fun.” Currently, a Trojan horse, marks the entrance to the Langlais home.
The Georges River Land Trust will be the beneficiary of this property in 2015, when Kohler Foundation transfers the land, several of the outdoor iconic sculptures and Langlais residence and workshops to the Land Trust which will create the “Langlais sculpture preserve.” Kohler is continuing to do the needed restoration work on the art pieces, the house and the landscaping. They are working with Maine Preservation, a statewide historic preservation organization, on the house restoration elements. .
It’s noteworthy that a few miles from the Langlais home is the restored icon – The Olson House – famously the site of Andrew Wyeth’s painting of disabled Christina in front of the former farm and once a “summer house” for guests to the area. The Olson House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995 and is owned by the Farnsworth Museum, Rockland.