December 16, 2012

Animal welfare society

That would be Arron Sturgis and his team, charged with restoring three of Bernard Langlais' iconic wooden sculptures.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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A Bernard Langlais sculptures of a lion.

Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Arron Sturgis of Preservation Timber Framing in Berwick, with preservationist Jessica MilNeil, is working with the Ogunquit Museum of American Art to conserve a Bernard Langlais sculpture of a bear.

Additional Photos Below

It will have a safer, more dignified home at Ogunquit, Crusan said.

When Sturgis finishes his work and the trio of beasts returns to Ogunquit, the museum will re-imagine its sculpture garden. The Langlais pieces may be moved from their former locations and re-sited with new pads and footings to minimize rot.

Sturgis laughs when recalling his journey from Ogunquit to his workshop in Berwick. The cavalcade of animals turned a few heads along the way. But he grimaces when he recalls humping these beasts into his studio, and cannot imagine the artist's struggle with these sculptures when he constructed them.

When he rebuilds a church steeple, the craftsman sits in the sanctuary to absorb the aura of the building. He gleans a lot just by looking. He learns something about the builder's aesthetic and techniques.

Strugis does the same thing with these sculptures. He's spending a lot of time simply observing how Langlais put them together, how he made his mark on them and what his thought process might have been. That information, which involves equal parts detective work and expertise, will help him make good decisions about how the art can be best conserved and preserved.

"I'm trying to get inside his brain," said Sturgis. "One thing I've learned, this guy wasn't wasting any time on these. These aren't pieces of finely crafted furniture. He was really moving."

Sturgis makes that observation with affection. He didn't know Langlais, but he thinks they would have enjoyed each other's company. They would have had a lot in common and shared similar interests.

Sturgis is 52, a similar age as Langlais when the artist was in his creative prime. He can imagine how Langlais worked. He envisions the artist gathering timbers and discarded materials from the stacks that he kept at Cushing and assembling these pieces with whimsy, humor and passion. 

AS HE DELVES INTO this project, Strugis wants to capture that same spirit and approach his work with the same vigor that he imagines Langlais employed.

By studying the marks in the wood, he can measure the gauge of the chain that Langlais used on his saws when he made his cuts and marks. He smirks knowingly as he notes a chainsaw mark on the head of a bolt on the bear. He imagines Langlais' choice words when the saw kicked on impact.

Sturgis will use the same tools and techniques when he saws new wood to match the old. And he will do his best to use the exact same materials as Langlais, down to the lag bolts and nails.

Langlais was born in Old Town in 1921. He had success in New York as a painter and maker of smaller wooden objects.

He and his wife, Helen, returned to Maine in the late 1960s, settling in Cushing, where he made most of his larger, iconic pieces.

He was part of a large group of artists who came to Maine in the 1960s and settled in the midcoast. His circle included Alex Katz, Charlie DuBack, Lois Dodd and others. He was one of the founders of Maine Coast Artists in Rockport, now known at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.

Langlais was known nationally, but not at a level of Katz or Andrew Wyeth, another Cushing-area artist. But he looms large in Maine, and remains a central figure in the state's contemporary art scene.

Like modernist painter Marsden Hartley, Langlais understood the working-class aesthetic of his native state better than most. He attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture during its early heyday, and went to New York to make his living.

His work reflects both his roots and his sophistication, said Portland gallery owner Andres Verzosa, who began the Langlais fund and has championed his work in recent years.

Verzosa could not be happier that these pieces are finally getting attention.

"This is better than Christmas," he said, beaming as he stood in the middle of Sturgis' workshop. "For a long time, I would see these at the museum and see what shape they were in.

"This is what it's all about. This is why we raised the money."

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

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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Additional Photos

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Arron Sturgis of Preservation Timber Framing in Berwick, with preservationist Jessica MilNeil, is working with the Ogunquit Museum of American Art to conserve a Bernard Langlais sculpture of a horse.

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Langlais’ lion sculpture is in somewhat better condition than the bear and horse, both of which have serious rot issues.


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