Ted Chaffee grew up a few doors down from Bernard Langlais’ estate in Cushing. The town of about 1,500 people was “basically just a road” in the late 1950s when Chaffee, now 62 and the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Gardiner, was in high school, but he remembers it as a place where artists like Langlais, a sculptor and painter, were welcomed and respected.
“You either lived on that street or one of a few others, but there really wasn’t a village,” said Chaffee. “I never actually carried on a conversation with him, but I’d wave when I rode my bicycle by, that kind of thing. My brother would knock on his door and sell magazines for fundraisers. We knew he was an artist and his work had been shown at big art museums in New York.”
Langlais, who died in 1977, was raised in Old Town and studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture. He spent the early part of his career in New York City before buying a summer home in Cushing and moving there permanently with his wife, Helen, in 1966.
Langlais created wooden sculptures – mostly of animals – as well as other art, most of which remained on the estate until after Helen’s death in 2010, when it was donated to Colby College.
“I’ve always had a personal interest in them,” said Chaffee, who said he leapt at the opportunity to bring a few of Langlais’ more than 3,000 works to his church in Gardiner after hearing that the college, in conjunction with a Wisconsin-based nonprofit group, was looking to place them at nonprofit organizations around the state.
Along with dozens of others, Chaffee returned to Cushing last winter to sort through the Langlais estate and ultimately secured four works for the church, including a wood-relief carving of the animals of Noah’s Ark.
The church in Gardiner is one of 48 organizations including schools, libraries, museums and universities in Maine to become a part of the Langlais Art Trail, a digital trail of Langlais’ work at installations around the state.
The trail officially launches this weekend along with a new exhibit at Colby College displaying about 190 works of the collection.
The works will be in places like the China Town Office, the Canaan Public Library and the Starks Community Center, as well as the Colby College Art Museum, which reopened last year with a $15 million addition.
The project is the culmination of about four years of work curating the Langlais collection and trying to find a way to share it with as many people as possible.