CUSHING – Helen Langlais spent the last 32 years of her life preserving and promoting the artwork of her husband, Bernard ”Blackie” Langlais, noted Maine sculptor and creator of wood reliefs.

Shortly after he died on Dec. 26, 1977, Mrs. Langlais was in a car accident. Trapped upside down in her vehicle, she made a bargain with God, according to arts writer Edgar Beem, who interviewed her in 1979.

”While she was trapped in the car there, her bargain with God was that if she survived, she would devote herself to Blackie’s legacy,” he said.

She did just that until her death Monday at age 80.

Mrs. Langlais was introduced to her husband while visiting a friend, Maine painter Nancy Wisseman-Widrig, in New York City. Beem said ”she was every bit his match, his equal.”

Harriet Passerman became friends with Mrs. Langlais after spending 18 months working with her to create a video documentary about ”Blackie’s” work. Passerman realized Mrs. Langlais had given up a singing career so her husband could pursue his art, and later so she could preserve his legacy.

”She was an extraordinary woman, small in stature, but she was smart,” Passerman said. ”She was extraordinary because she wasn’t out there, but she lived an interesting, but odd life.”

Left with a valuable art estate after her husband died, Mrs. Langlais was struggling to pay the estate taxes on more than 100 sculptural works adorning her yard and stored in the barn.

This led her to help create an artists’ estate tax law in 1980 that allowed her and others to make art donations to state institutions in lieu of paying estate taxes.

”She gave a huge gift to the art world in Maine,” Passerman said of the law.

Because of the law, a number of University of Maine campuses are home to her husband’s artwork.

”She was just a class act,” said Carl Little, an arts writer who helped write an essay for a 2002 exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art. ”She was wonderfully sweet and incredibly committed to her husband’s work. Preserving it and promoting it.”

Preserving it was half the battle. Beem said Mrs. Langlais had to work to prevent the wooden pieces on her property from rotting.

She also kept detailed indexes on all her husband’s work — on an entry documenting a sculpture titled ”Shore Bird,” she listed a repair in August 1981, other updates in 1983, 1985 and 1986, only to write on May 11, 1990 that the sculpture had been blown down and destroyed by strong winds around 4:30 p.m.

”I was in awe of her,” Aucocisco Galleries owner Andres Verzosa said, reflecting on his first visit to her property. ”It was obvious that someone kept this together for 30 some odd years, and it was her. Shouldering that responsibility, lovingly and willingly.”

Mrs. Langlais’ niece Cathleen Olson said her aunt was like a mother. Olson spent nearly every summer of her youth with her ”Auntie Helen and Uncle Bernie.” She learned to appreciate art and music, and remembers attending art openings with her.

Olson recalls the time she spent with Mrs. Langlais as ”happiness and joy,” whether walking to the mailbox or chatting for hours over a cup of coffee.

”She was highly respected. She had a wonderful sense of humor,” Passerman said. ”If only more women were like her it would be a terrific world.”

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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