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A portion of the estate of Maine artist Bernard “Blackie” Langlais will be made into a public sculpture park thanks to a partnership created by the Colby College Museum of Art, the Kohler Foundation, and the Georges River Land Trust to preserve his art and legacy, the Colby museum announced March 12. As part of this partnership, the Kohler Foundation will gift nearly 3,000 Langlais artworks to nonprofit institutions.

“We are grateful to the Kohler Foundation and the Georges River Land Trust for their visionary partnership,” said Sharon Corwin, chief curator and director of the Colby museum. “Through this unique collaboration, Blackie Langlais’ legacy will be preserved and shared with the people of Maine and beyond.”

In 2010, Colby received a large bequest of artworks by Langlais (1921-1977) from his widow, Helen Langlais, as well as the 90-acre property in Cushing that the couple occupied from 1966 to 1977. The Colby museum has acquired 180 artworks from this gift for its collection, which already contained a dozen sculptures and wood reliefs by Langlais, making theirs the single largest holding of the artist’s work. The Colby museum’s Bernard Langlais Collection will be presented in a retrospective exhibition in summer 2014 and will be accompanied by a major publication.

During his years in Cushing, Maine, Langlais—the artist who created the iconic 62-foot Abenaki Indian in Skowhegan, Maine—constructed more than 100 large-scale wood sculptures on the land around his home. A number of these outdoor sculptures still remain on the property, although many show the ravages of time and weather.

Recognizing the importance of the site to the artist’s legacy, and to the rich history of the arts on the mid-Coast, Colby Museum Assistant Curator Hannah Blunt contacted the Kohler Foundation Inc. of Kohler, Wisconsin, a private foundation that funds arts, education, and preservation initiatives that center on art environments and collections by self-taught artists. “While Langlais was far from self-taught, the focus of his creative energies in the last years of his life were on his home and surroundings as a sort of canvas; he expressed a powerful sense of place. This makes him a natural fit with the foundation’s mission, which supports the unique efforts of artist-environment builders,” said Blunt.  

The Kohler Foundation has acquired the 90-acre Cushing estate from Colby and will undertake the monumental task of conserving outdoor sculptures on the property, a collection of which will remain in place, with several to be adopted and cared for by the Colby College Museum of Art.

The Georges River Land Trust of Rockland, Maine, will take ownership of the property in late 2013 and will collaborate with the Colby museum on public programming at the sculpture park.

“This partnership with the Kohler Foundation and Colby College speaks well to the inspiration our natural lands provide for the gifted artists in our community,” said Gail Presley, Georges River Land Trust Executive Director. “We are pleased to be playing a role in preserving the natural heritage of the Langlais estate.”

The gift of nearly 3,000 Langlais artworks from Colby to the Kohler Foundation will allow the foundation to conserve and ultimately gift these works, including wood reliefs, paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, to nonprofit institutions in Maine and nationally, enabling other communities to enjoy Langlais’ spirited art.

“Langlais’ work is already generating interest, and its whimsy and subject matter have unusually broad appeal. It is art that appeals to all ages,” said Kohler Foundation Executive Director Terri Yoho.

Born in Old Town, Maine, Langlais studied painting at the Corcoran School of Art, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and the Brooklyn Museum Art School, and received a Fulbright Scholarship to Oslo, Norway. While living in New York City in the 1950s and early 1960s, Langlais experimented with the medium of wood. He created abstract reliefs that caught the attention of the art world in the era of Abstract Expressionism and Pop art and earned him a solo exhibition at the esteemed Leo Castelli Gallery in 1961. In 1966, after spending a decade of summers in midcoast Maine, where he was a founding member of Maine Coast Artists in Rockport (now the Center for Maine Contemporary Art), Langlais was drawn back permanently to his native state. He returned to figuration in his work, often drawing from the animal kingdom for his subject matter.

Nonprofit organizations with an interest in the work of Bernard Langlais and the ability to care for it into the future should contact Terri Yoho at Kohler Foundation for further information.

Colby College Museum of Art
Founded in 1959, the Colby College Museum of Art will, with the completion of the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion in July 2013, comprise four wings, more than 8,000 works of art, and more than 35,000 square feet of exhibition space. Major works by American masters including John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt and William Merritt Chase form the core of the historical collection, along with significant holdings of American folk art. The modern movement is represented by important works by artists including John Marin, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, George Bellows and Rockwell Kent. The museum also maintains a significant collection of contemporary American art, including works by Chuck Close, Agnes Martin, Sol LeWitt, Dan Flavin, Kara Walker, Elizabeth Murray, Alex Katz, and Terry Winters. Other principal areas of the collection include Greek and Roman antiquities, European prints and drawings and early Chinese art. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.

Kohler Foundation, Inc.
The Kohler Foundation, located in Kohler, Wis., and established in 1940, has long supported the arts and education. The foundation’s work encompasses five major areas of concentration: art preservation, grants, scholarships, a performing arts series, and management of the Waelderhaus, a historic home in the village of Kohler. For more information visit the foundation’s website or call 920-458-1972.

Georges River Land Trust

Organized in 1987, the Georges River Land Trust actively conserves the ecosystems and traditional heritage of the Georges River watershed region through permanent land protection, stewardship, education and outdoor experiences. The watershed extends from Montville in the north to Port Clyde and Cushing in the south, and includes streams, ponds, lakes, wetlands, farms, hills, mountains, blueberry barrens and forest, as well as a rich tidal estuary of salt marsh, clamflats and productive fishing grounds. For more information, please visit the land trust’s website or call 207-594-5166.