October 13, 2013

Portland looking for home for Bernard Langlais’ bear sculptures

The larger-than-life works must be placed in city-owned buildings.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The city of Portland is looking for a decent home for a few homeless bears.

click image to enlarge

The Portland Public Art Committee is encouraging input from residents to help place these larger-than-life bears created by the late Maine sculptor Bernard “Blackie” Langlais. His best-known piece may be a 62-foot–tall Abenaki Indian that towers over Skowhegan.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Portland is dividing the eight bird houses into two groups of three and a group of two. Portland and Deering high schools each will receive one group, and the third will go to another school still to be determined.


The Portland Public Art Committee wants to hear from you. Where within the city do you think Bernard Langlais’ oversized carved wooden bears should be located?

The location choices are limited. The sculptures must be placed indoors, and the committee only can place them in city-owned buildings. That means schools, libraries, municipal buildings and the like are candidates.

The committee would like them in a high-traffic area.

To offers ideas, email publicart@portlandmaine.gov or visit the committee’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/PublicArtPortland

For information, visit www.publicartportland.org.

As part of an initiative to restore public confidence in its work, the Portland Public Art Committee is encouraging input from residents to help place two larger-than-life sculptures made by the late Maine sculptor Bernard “Blackie” Langlais. The city will receive several Langlais sculptures this fall, including one standing bear that’s 10 feet tall and a pair of seated bears facing one another. The seated bears are almost 7 feet tall.

The committee has picked locations for most of the other pieces it is in line to receive, but faces a quandary about the bears. They are big and robust, and the committee can only place them inside city-owned buildings.

“They are homeless bears that any one of us would love to have,” said Lin Lisberger, who chairs the Public Art Committee.

The committee has been bombarded with criticism for a series of unpopular decisions regarding its commissioning of public art. It hopes this project turns the tide of public opinion.

Langlais was a popular artist with deep Maine roots who was embraced by the high-art world as well as everyday folks. He was born in Old Town, studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and made his name in New York before returning to his native state and settling in Cushing on Maine’s midcoast.

His work is considered both cultured and accessible, said Jack Soley, who was chairman of the committee when the Langlais project began. He is no longer on the art committee, but remains involved in the project. He’s also on the planning board.

Langlais, who died in 1977, was known for constructing whimsical, playful sculptures from discarded pieces of wood. His best-known piece may be a 62-foot tall Abenaki Indian that towers over Skowhegan, though he was most prolific creating lions, tigers, bears and other animals.

After the death of his widow, Helen, in 2010, the Langlais estate at Cushing went to Colby College, which then gifted most of it to the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation. Kohler is giving away most of the rest of it, including the pieces that are coming to Portland.

In all, Portland is receiving eight sculptural pieces free of charge.

Many of the sculptures have been sitting out in the elements for years. The foundation will fully conserve the sculptures before they come to Portland and pay the cost of transporting them. The art committee will spend about $30,000 preparing sites for the sculpture, Lisberger said. That money will come from its existing budget, she added.

The Portland Public Library is getting an elephant that’s almost 7-feet tall, as well a pair of acrobatic dogs. The Peaks Island library branch will receive a two-sided lion’s head that Langlais carved.

The city also is receiving a total of eight bird houses carved like human heads, each about 3-feet tall. It is dividing those eight into two groups of three and a group of two. Portland and Deering high schools each will receive one group, and the third will go to another school still to be determined.

That leaves the bears homeless.

The Public Art Committee has talked internally about placing one bear sculpture in the soon-to-be-renovated terminal of the Casco Bay Lines and the other at Ocean Gateway, the cruise ship terminal that is just east of Casco Bay Lines terminal. Both buildings are owned by the city, and both receive a lot of traffic, Lisberger said. Temporarily, they may reside at City Hall until a permanent home is found.

“They are both what we call ‘gateway pieces,’ and we want them in a location where a lot of people will see them,” she said.

(Continued on page 2)

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