Photo by Marjorie strauss
Photo by Marjorie strauss
Colby College Museum of Art announced last week that a public sculpture park will be created on part of the property in Cushing that was home to Maine artist Bernard "Blackie" Langlais, thanks to a partnership created by the Colby museum, the Kohler Foundation, and Georges River Land Trust. The Kohler Foundation will also give away nearly 3,000 Langlais artworks to nonprofit institutions.

In 2010, Colby received a large bequest of artworks by Langlais (1921-1977) from his widow, Helen Langlais, as well as the 90-acre River Road property in Cushing that the couple occupied from 1966 to 1977. The Colby museum has acquired 180 artworks from the 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, Langlais constructed more than 100 large-scale wood sculptures on the land around his home. With the huge Trojan horse on the front lawn and sculptures emerging from ponds, the property has long been a local landmark. A number of the outdoor sculptures still remain on the property, many showing the ravages of time and weather.

In response to the importance of the site to the artist's legacy, and to the history of the arts in the midcoast, 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 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.

"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."

The Georges River Land Trust, based in Rockland, 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.

According to Presley, the sculpture park will involve about two to three acres of the 90-acre property, with the rest under conservation. The park may be ready to open in the spring of 2014.

The gift of nearly 3,000 Langlais artworks from Colby to the Kohler Foundation will allow the foundation to conserve and ultimately give those 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 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 are advised to contact Terri Yoho at Kohler Foundation for further information.

About 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 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.

Kohler Foundation, Inc.

The Kohler Foundation, located in Kohler, Wisconsin, 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.