November 20, 2013

Another sculpture by artist Langlais restored in Skowhegan

The Bar Harbor sea gull, now being restored in Skowhegan, is a good example of Langlais’ whimsical and prolific art created from used pieces of wood, according to museum curator.

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — Maine artist Bernard Langlais made a bet with fellow artist Joan Purcell in the late 1960s or early 1970s that she wouldn’t be able to sell a particular piece of his art at her gallery in Bar Harbor.

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renewed: The 25-foot restored wooden seagull sculpture created by Skowhegan artist Bernard Langlais will soon return to the Bar Harbor storefront where it has hung for years.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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restoration crew: Stephen Dionne, left, with his employees Joe Almand, 33, center, and Dylan Daigle, 28, stand next to the 25-foot wooden seagull sculpture created by Skowhegan artist Bernard Langlais that they have restored.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Additional Photos Below

Purcell sold the piece and won the bet, according to the man who bought the gallery from Purcell last year.

Langlais paid up with another piece of art — a large wooden sculpture of a sea gull, which Purcell promptly mounted on the front of her gallery.

The Bar Harbor sea gull, being restored at Oak Pond Mill Works in Skowhegan, is a good example of Langlais’ whimsical and prolific art created from used pieces of wood, said Hannah Blunt, Langlais curator for special projects at the Colby Museum of Art.

Blunt said she is glad the sea gull is getting some notice as a Langlais sculpture outside of a museum or a formal collection.

“I have heard sort of rumblings about this gull in the last few years and I’m excited to hear it’s been brought to light,” Blunt said. “I am not aware of it being made on a bet, but that doesn’t surprise me at all. That would be sort of in keeping with his whole attitude about his work and sharing it in funny ways like that.”

The restoration project started earlier this summer when Stephen Dionne and his wife visited Bar Harbor and saw the sculpture — 25 feet wide from wing tip to wing tip and 11 feet tall. Dionne, who has been contracted to restore Skowhegan’s iconic Indian statue by Langlais, said he knew immediately who the artist was and inquired at the store.

“I was just walking down the sidewalk and saw it and said, man, that’s got to be a Langlais,” Dionne said. “I left my card and didn’t hear anything for two and half months and he just happened to call a couple of weeks ago and said he wanted the restoration done.”

The gallery, now Jack’s Jewelry on Main Street, was bought last year from Purcell by Jack and Sherri Coopersmith. The Langlais sea gull came with it, now weathered by decades of sun and sea and in need of repair.

Jack Coopersmith, a tourmaline jeweler who has worked in the building since 1975, said he was aware that the huge sea gull on the front of the store was a Langlais piece and had heard of the restoration effort underway for the Langlais Indian in Skowhegan. He said he was told the story of the bet with Langlais by Purcell.

“I’ve seen it there all these years wanted to get it restored and then Stephen Dionne happened to be in Bar Harbor and saw the bird on the building and stopped in and dropped off his card,” Coopersmith said. “I wanted to do it anyway. It was great timing. I grew to really love the thing and I saw what a great landmark in Bar Harbor it is. Then we found out about Bernard ‘Blackie’ Langlais and it got more interesting.”

The restoration work filling cracks and gouges left by exposure to the sea air in Bar Harbor and scraping and repainting big bird is done. Dionne said he and his crew of two other men are to deliver and remount the piece on Thursday.

He said the sea gull is made from plywood, two-by-fours and scraps of cedar shingles to form three pieces. The whole thing weighs about 350 pounds.

Langlais, who died in 1977, was born in Old Town and is best known for making oversized wooden sculptures such as the Skowhegan Indian — and now the Bar Harbor sea gull. He studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, moved to New York and made a name for himself there in the 1950s. He returned to Maine in 1966.

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Additional Photos

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AT Home: Bernard Langlais sea gull will soon return to the Bar Harbor storefront where it has been for decades.

Contributed Photo

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