CUSHING — The home, studio and inspirational lands of Maine artist Bernard Langlais will open to the public this week, offering visitors the chance to see how Langlais lived and where he made his massive wooden sculptures and to walk the woods that motivated him.

A dozen of his large-scale pieces are on view at the Langlais Sculpture Preserve, which opens Saturday after a five-year preservation project. A majestic horse on the right side of the River Road heading south down the Cushing peninsula signals the park. The horse has been there more than 50 years and was restored as part of the project. People who have driven by and wondered about it can now stop and check it out.

There are a dozen sculptures along a small walking trail, which is open daily, dawn to dusk. For Saturday’s celebration, Langlais’ home and studio also will be open for tours, and there will be activities for kids and families and movies about his life and work. People who knew the artist and his wife will be able to share their stories with an oral historian.

Langlais, who died in 1977 at age 56, was born in Old Town and is best known in Maine for his 62-foot Abenaki Indian in Skowhegan. Known by his nickname, Blackie, he was gregarious and outgoing, with a crop of wild hair and a personality to match. He introduced school kids from across Maine to axes and chainsaws, and amused locals, summer folk and visitors with his playful, folksy art that he arranged throughout his property.

He had settled in Cushing in the 1960s, moving away from a successful art career in New York, and began assembling sculptures from wood, populating his 90 acres with hundreds of pieces, mostly sculptures of animals and an occasional human figure – Richard Nixon, most notably.

Tricky Dick is part of the installation in Cushing, along with “Local Girl,” Langlais’ whimsical homage to Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World.” There are five bears, two elephants and a cow.

The Langlais preserve, restored for about $2.5 million over five years, is the latest example of an artist’s private space in Maine being opened to the public and creates another art destination on the midcoast. The Olson House, where Wyeth made “Christina’s World,” is a few miles down the road, and Rockland, with its museums, galleries and performance art spaces, is less than 8 miles away.

‘Local Girl” at Langlais Sculpture Preserve. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The project also satisfies the hope of Langlais’ widow, Helen, who died in 2010, said Abbe Levin, cultural tourism coordinator for the Maine Department of Tourism and a member of the Langlais Leadership Team that coordinated the project.

“She was so committed to seeing the right thing happen to that place and all of that work,” said Levin, who spent three days with Helen Langlais in the mid-1990s making an early inventory of the art on the property. “It hadn’t quite jelled for her just how it would happen, but I think she would be really, really overwhelmingly pleased with how things have turned out.”

Bernard Langlais Photo courtesy Georges River Land Trust

Helen Langlais willed the 90-acre homestead and thousands of pieces of art to the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, which partnered with the Kohler Foundation of Wisconsin to preserve the art and the property. The mission of the Kohler Foundation includes the preservation of art environments. Colby kept a few hundred pieces for its own collection, and most of the rest were distributed to schools, museums and other entities across Maine.

In turn, the Georges River Land Trust assumed ownership of the property and is managing its day-to-day operation as a nature and cultural preserve. It’s a new kind of project for the land trust, whose primary mission involves conservation of the St. Georges River watershed through stewardship and education. Buildings and art are new to the land trust, but its mission also includes the conservation of heritage, said board chairman Alvin Chase of Warren.

The land trust has been “loyal and honest” to the watershed by preserving the natural resources of its farms, forests and flats for 30 years, he said. This project enables the land trust to preserve some of the region’s cultural heritage, as well as 90 acres of property that includes several hundred feet of waterfront.

“The St. Georges River watershed has always been and continues to be a remarkable place for art. So, not only are we conserving land, we are saving the places that have inspired artists for all these years,” Alvin said.

The Langlais property is long and narrow, with 20 acres on one side of the River Road leading to about 600 feet of frontage along the river and 70 acres on the other side, the site of the 5-acre sculpture park.

Langlais sculptures on the Cushing property where he lived and worked. It now is owned and managed by the Georges River Land Trust as a nature and cultural preserve.

In addition to the smooth, quarter-mile trail that leads to the sculptures, a woodland trail of about a half-mile leads to a small pond. Eventually, the land trust will link the Langlais trails to others that traverse the spine of the Cushing peninsula, so people can access the park by the road or by hiking trails, said Annette Naegel, director of conservation for the land trust. “There are many ways people can connect with outdoors and nature and their place in the landscape. This property offers one more way to do that,” Naegel said.

The preserve is simple and spartan, with a gravel parking area, an outdoor kiosk and the trails. The buildings, which house indoor art, will be used for programs hosted by the land trust in partnership with other organizations. They will not be open to the public on a regular, ongoing basis, Naegel said, but will be open for special events.

The home, studio and inspirational lands of Maine artist Bernard Langlais will open to the public this week as the Langlais Sculpture Preserve. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“We want the buildings to be used by the community, and there will be plenty of opportunities for people to see the work in the buildings, but we are not keeping museum hours or hiring docents,” she said.

The land trust is raising about $200,000 to open the sculpture park, and it foresees an annual operating budget of about $30,000, Naegel said.

Among its supporters are Thomas and Dennie Wolf of West Rockport. Thomas Wolf’s parents were friendly with Blackie and Helen Langlais, and collected his art. The tradition of collecting Langlais art passed to the next generation of the Wolf family, Thomas Wolf said. Wolf also is co-founder, with his brother, Andrew, of Bay Chamber Concerts in Rockport, which Langlais supported as a charter subscriber in 1961.

They’ve always appreciated Langlais and his art, and when they learned that a 14-foot throne that Langlais created and adorned with wild animals was languishing on a property in Cushing and about to be sold, they convinced the owner to sell the piece to them, so they could restore it. “The Throne” now is situated on the Wolfs’ property in West Rockport.

They’re thrilled that the artist’s property and art are being preserved, and praised the Georges River Land Trust for accepting stewardship of the site as part of its mission going forward. “That organization deserves a huge amount of credit. A lot of people would have said, ‘This is beyond our mission. That’s for art people to do.’ But they immediately saw the connection between the land and the art,” Thomas Wolf said. “Blackie’s property – his house and his way of life – is sort of all a work of art. It’s wonderful that it’s being preserved.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes