In 2010, Colby College of Waterville, Maine received a large bequest of artworks by Bernard “Blackie” Langlais from the artist’s widow, Helen Langlais, as well as a 90-acre property in Cushing, Maine that the couple occupied from 1966 to 1977. The Colby College Museum of Art 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.
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 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, assemblage, 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 on the mid-Coast of 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. Late in his life, he constructed more than 100 large-scale wood sculptures, which he erected on the land around his Cushing home. A number of 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 Kohler Foundation about possible preservation of the collection and site. In December 2012, Colby made a gift of nearly 3,000 Langlais artworks to Kohler Foundation. We intend to preserve and ultimately gift these works, which include wood reliefs, paintings, sculptures and works on paper, to non-profit institutions throughout Maine and the United States, enabling other communities to enjoy Langlais’ spirited art.
Kohler Foundation is also undertaking the monumental task of conserving outdoor sculptures on the Cushing property, a collection of which will remain in situ, with several to be adopted and cared for by the Colby College Museum of Art. A portion of the estate will be preserved as a sculpture park for public access and will be named in honor of Bernard and Helen Langlais. The Georges River Land Trust of Rockland, Maine will take ownership of the property in late 2014, and the Land Trust will collaborate with the Colby Museum on programming at the site. The unique partnership of so many organizations, including Kohler Foundation, all intent upon preserving the work of Bernard Langlais, was highlighted in the New York Times Weekend Section in June 2013.
During 2013, Kohler Foundation made gifts of Langlais art to 50 non-profit organizations in Maine and three outside the state. Work is underway to establish a "Langlais Art Trail" to identify where Langlais' art has been placed.
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.
Non-profit 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 about possible gifts of art.
Below, you can view a short documentary film recently completed about the Langlais project:
Bernard Langlais: Restoring and Preserving the Legacy