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

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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.

SEND IN YOUR THOUGHTS

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.

Before committee members make a decision and a proposal to the City Council, they want input from the public. The Public Art Committee is an advisory board, and ultimately its recommendations must be ratified by the City Council.

Lisberger said she hopes to present the council with a formal proposal to accept and place all the sculpture this fall.

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 considered offering some pieces to the Portland International Jetport, but airport director Paul Bradbury has already placed several monumental pieces by the other artists on the grounds, and has plans to locate smaller sculptures inside the terminal. The committee worried that the Langlais pieces might get lost among the other airport art.

Other possibilities include Hadlock Field home of the Portland Sea Dogs baseball team, or possibly the Cumberland County Civic Center, which is county owned. Hadlock might work, but the sculpture would have been protected from the weather. If the civic center emerges, the art committee would have to allow for placing art in a building not owned by the city, which might require a change in its bylaws.

At least when it comes to public opinion, the art committee has a spotty record. It commissioned an artist to create a grass-based sculpture at Boothby Square in the Old Port, but the grass never came in as hoped and the committee decommissioned the work, scrapping the project after relentless complains by neighbors. A plan to place high-design benches along the Bayside Trail was also ditched when the price skyrocketed beyond the budget.

At Hadlock Field, the committee wanted no part of “American Baseball Family,” a bronze sculpture commissioned by Sea Dogs owner Dan Burke and unveiled in 2007. But the City Council ignored the art committee advice, and accepted the sculpture anyway.

Soley said the Langlais project isn’t about righting wrongs as much as it is about doing the right thing.

“This is not about redeeming past mistakes, but about moving forward and creating opportunity for the city we haven’t seen in many, many years,” he said.

Susan Kelly, preservation coordinator for the Kohler Foundation, said the foundation has given away nearly the entire remaining Langlais collection to 45 institutions across Maine. The collection includes many wood sculptures similar to what Portland is receiving, as well as paintings, drawings and wood reliefs.

“The interest has been tremendous,” Kelly said. “Once word got out, we didn’t have to search out recipients. They came and found us.”

Steve Podgajny, the library director, welcomed the Langlais sculptures into the library collection.

The library already has a large collection of art, and hosts rotating exhibitions in its Lewis Gallery. Art is a core part of the ambiance and cultural experience of the library, Podgajny said, adding that the library receives about a half-million visits annually.

The Langlais pieces will enhance the library experience, he said.

One sculpture will be placed at the landing at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor. The location of the other piece is to be determined.

“I feel like they are incredibly accessible,” Podgajny said. “They are playful. They have a lot of joy embedded in them, and they work with the amount of time and the kind of exposure that someone might have in terms of time and passing through in a busy public space. ... For us, it’s not a situation where we said, ‘Oh, we’ll store them for you.’ They’re an integral part of the library experience and we’re thrilled to be getting them.”

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