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.


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.

Soley visited the Langlais estate several times, and brought along his colleagues from the Public Art Committee. “We were like kids in a candy store,” Soley said. “I was just hoping we would receive at least a single monumental piece and bring renewed interest to Langlais’ work and put him back on the map in Portland.”

That the committee was able to receive at least three monumental pieces – the bears and the elephant – as well as several smaller pieces was more than Soley imagined possible.

“I think the greatest thing about Langlais’ work is its brilliance and its accessibility to the non-artists, and yet it was put together with tremendous skills. He is very well-regarded in the high-art world,” he said.

Before turning the estate over to Kohler, the Colby museum culled a few hundred pieces, and will mount a major Langlais retrospective next year. The Portland Museum of Art hosted a Langlais exhibition in 2002.

Nearly every major museum in Maine is receiving some work, Kelly said.

Commercially, Langlais’ work sells for a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Based on the pricing of his pieces available for purchase today, the value of the work coming to Portland might be as high as $250,000.

Based on what she has learned about the artist, Kelly said she believes he would be very happy that so much of his work is ending up with public institutions, available for anybody to appreciate.

“From stories that people have told us, he was very welcoming. He never turned anyone away who wanted to visit the property or stay on the property. I think this would have made him very happy,” she said.

Soley was one of those people. When he was a middle school student, Soley took a school trip to Cushing. He recalls meeting Langlais, and remembers the artist encouraging Soley and his buddies “to scamper all around these fantastic pieces.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:


Twitter: pphbkeyes


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