Visitors to the Bernard "Blackie" Langlais exhibit at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville have been stoping by to see if Blackie's grey-shingled house, barns and art studios where he created some of his massive sculptures on River Road in Cushing are open for visitors.
They aren't. But the cars and trucks parked in the driveway next to the large wooden Trojan horse sculpture indicate renovations of the property are under way, and a sculpture and art preserve is expected to open to the public next spring, according to Annette Naegel of the Georges River Land Trust (GRLT).
Langlais, whose best-known work in Maine is the Skowhegan Indian, returned to his native Maine in the 1950s after establishing himself as a New York artist. In the barn and studios on the 90-acre River Road farm that he shared with his wife, Helen, the artist created more than 100 large outdoor sculptures, as well as smaller works of art. The artist died in 1977.
The Helen Langlais estate bequeathed the property and a large collection of Blackie Langlais' works to the Colby College museum in 2010, which sold the property to the Kohler Foundation, then gave the foundation 3,000 Langlais works and collaborated in establishing the Langlais Art Trail. The art trail is a collection of Langlais' work, located in 50 institutions in 40 Maine communities. All are open to public view. An art trail map is available at www.langlaisarttrail.org.
GRLT stepped in to facilitate conserving the Langlais farm and art studios in Cushing into a preserve - the first such property owned by GRLT that combines art, conservation, and public access. The Kohler Foundation, Colby College Museum of Art, Maine Preservation and GRLT are collaborating on the establishment of the preserve.
The Kohler Foundation, which has worked to establish other in-situ art preserves, including the Garden of Eden in Kansas and the Painted Forest in Wisconsin, acquires and holds artistically important property only for as long as necessary to preserve or restore it. They then pass it on to other institutions who will continue that effort, with the stipulation that the property cannot be sold or converted to other uses. The River Road art preserve is their first in New England.
GRLT will take up ownership of the property from Kohler once the buildings are renovated, the outdoor sculptures restored, and the preserve is ready to open to the public, said Naegel.
Art interpretation trails and signage, and a handicapped-accessible trail, are in discussion, according to Naegel. GRLT will also facilitate establishing a Friends of Langlais volunteer group for Langlais enthusiasts, she said.