SKOWHEGAN — Maine artist Bernard Langlais made a bet with fellow artist Joan Purcell in the late 1960s or early 1970s that she wouldn’t be able to sell a particular piece of his art at her gallery in Bar Harbor.
Purcell sold the piece and won the bet, according to the man who bought the gallery from Purcell last year.
Langlais paid up with another piece of art – a large wooden sculpture of a sea gull, which Purcell promptly mounted on the front of her gallery.
The Bar Harbor sea gull, being restored at Oak Pond Mill Works in Skowhegan, is a good example of Langlais’ whimsical and prolific art created from used pieces of wood, said Hannah Blunt, Langlais curator for special projects at the Colby Museum of Art.
Blunt said she is glad the sea gull is getting some notice as a Langlais sculpture outside of a museum or a formal collection.
“I have heard sort of rumblings about this gull in the last few years and I’m excited to hear it’s been brought to light,” Blunt said. “I am not aware of it being made on a bet, but that doesn’t surprise me at all. That would be sort of in keeping with his whole attitude about his work and sharing it in funny ways like that.”
The restoration project started earlier this summer when Stephen Dionne and his wife visited Bar Harbor and saw the sculpture – 25 feet wide from wing tip to wing tip and 11 feet tall. Dionne, who has been contracted to restore Skowhegan’s iconic Indian statue by Langlais, said he knew immediately who the artist was and inquired at the store.
“I was just walking down the sidewalk and saw it and said, ‘Man, that’s got to be a Langlais,’ ” Dionne said. “I left my card and didn’t hear anything for two and half months and he just happened to call a couple of weeks ago and said he wanted the restoration done.”
The gallery, now Jack’s Jewelry on Main Street, was bought last year from Purcell by Jack and Sherri Coopersmith. The Langlais sea gull came with it, now weathered by decades of sun and sea and in need of repair.
The restoration work filling cracks and gouges left by exposure to the sea air in Bar Harbor and scraping and repainting big bird is done. Dionne said he and his crew of two other men are to deliver and remount the piece on Thursday.
Langlais, who died in 1977, was born in Old Town and is best known for making oversized wooden sculptures such as the Skowhegan Indian – and now the Bar Harbor sea gull. He studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, moved to New York and made a name for himself there in the 1950s. He returned to Maine in 1966.
Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at: