SKOWHEGAN — A local building contractor who helped turn the old county jail downtown into a working grist mill and agricultural hub updated selectmen Tuesday night on restoration of the Skowhegan Indian statue.
Steve Dionne, who also bought the former Grange hall nearby with grist mill owner Amber Lambke, told selectmen that fundraising to repair the iconic 62-foot sculpture continues and he hopes voters will contribute $10,000 at the annual Town Meeting in June.
He said the total cost is expected to be $65,000.
The statue, made from carved sections of hemlock over a period of three years, was completed by the late artist Bernard Langlais and dedicated in 1969 as a tribute to local Indian tribes. Dionne said the statue is owned by the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce.
“We already own it. All we need to do is take care of it,” he said. “It would bring thousands of dollars to town over time. I think (Langlais’) work will become more important over time.”
Dionne said he hopes completion of the restoration will coincide with Langlais projects announced recently by the Colby College Museum of Art.
Part of the Langlais estate in Cushing, acquired by Colby in 2010, will become a public sculpture park; and many of the 3,000 pieces of art that remain in the estate will be given to nonprofit institutions in Maine and around the country, Colby’s museum director, Sharon Corwin, told the Portland Press Herald.
Colby has retained about 200 pieces and plans a major Langlais show in 2014.
Several large wooden sculptures, similar to the Skowhegan Indian, will be left on the property along the St. George River as part of a sculpture park, also with a target opening of spring 2014.
Langlais, who grew up in Old Town, was a student and teacher at Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. The sculpture was erected in 1969 off Madison Avenue, behind what is now Cumberland Farms.
Margie Brown, of the local fundraising committee, said suggestions of possibly moving the Indian to another location might not be a good idea because of the cost and because the sculpture is in the location where Langlais placed it, making the artwork more valuable.
The Indian’s original spear and fishing net have been removed from the sculpture and need to be replaced, as will the statue’s right arm.
Work has been done to cover holes in the main body of the statue, and a special solution was applied to the Indian’s legs, feet and other features to slow decay. The structure has a vertical steel beam secured to the 28-foot long concrete base and is stable, Dionne said. Stainless steel guy wires were installed to make it more stable.
“There’s no chance it’s going to fall over,” Dionne said to questions about the sculpture’s stability. “Remarkably, over 40-plus years, it’s still in very good condition.”
Screening that was stapled to the sculpture’s underside to keep birds and squirrels out was only partially successful and will need to be replaced with stronger material, he said.
Paint samples were sent to a conservator in Virginia for analysis to replicate Langlais’ original work. Trees that have grown up around the statue will be trimmed or removed with permission from abutting landowners.
A special circular scaffold must be erected to complete work at the top of the Indian, Dionne said.
Dionne, who was hired to spearhead the restoration in 2006, said fundraising began in 2003 with a committee, which now has a Facebook page. He said the Skowhegan Chamber still has $22,000 to be used for restoration work and if Skowhegan voters approve the $10,000 at town meeting, there is a private foundation willing to donate another $15,000.
The Maine Community Foundation and the Maine Arts Commission also have contributed to the restoration project.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367