Art foundation focuses on conservation of Langlais estate
Cushing — The Bernard Langlais estate in Cushing is the subject of discussions between local and national organizations to ensure preservation of the late artist's work and property. On Aug. 27, a meeting was held to inform Cushing residents of the proposed plans for the site.
The estate totals 90 acres, with 20 acres on the St. George River.
The property is a town landmark; the monumental horse sculpture serves as a sentinel of River Road. Langlais and his wife, Helen, both Maine natives, purchased the property in 1956 and split time between Manhattan and Maine until they moved to Cushing permanently in 1966.
The Kohler Foundation, based in Wisconsin, is a private foundation that supports art, education and preservation projects in the United States. The foundation is interested in preserving the estate and the art collection.
The foundation's executive director, Terri Yoho, addressed Cushing residents to share ideas and discuss the involvement of the town in the process.
Yoho said the foundation was approached by Colby College Museum Curator Hannah Blunt after the Langlais estate was bequeathed to the college upon the death of Helen Langlais in 2010.
Blunt, who currently lives on the Langlais estate, said Colby College contacted the Kohler Foundation because of its particular mission to preserve artist environments. According to Blunt, the condition of the wooden sculptures is varied. "The sculptures are over 40 years old and have seen the ravages of time," she said.
Blunt has lived at the estate for two years and said she is interested in preservation of the art work and the property.
The site retains a vast collection, including 30 major sculptures, 450 three-dimensional pieces, 230 paintings and thousands of works on paper.
Yoho said the Kohler Foundation's mission is to preserve and invest in artist environments and collections in situ to be gifted to affiliated nonprofit partners to be stewards of the property. "There's a whole gamut of organizations that can take it over — when we pass it on to them it's been restored to its former glory," she said.
Yoho said collaboration with educational and environmental institutions is ideal, adding that informal talks have begun with a college that is potentially interested. Stipulations of the gift include public access and the ability to care for the property. If an organization is unwilling or unable to care for the site, the foundation takes it over again to find a new steward.
Yoho said she is hoping the town will be a partner in some way. "That doesn't mean we're looking for money or resources, it means having a voice in what we're planning," she said. "We're not going to shift any financial burden or liability issue."
Some residents were concerned about property taxes being paid on the estate. Yoho said the Kohler Foundation will pay taxes while it owns the property. When the property is gifted to another organization, the organization may choose to pay a negotiated amount in lieu of taxes to cover town services.
The town would not incur any expense of the restoration and property unless it agreed to maintain the drive or pathway to the water on the east side of the road.
The foundation has been in discussions with the Georges River Land Trust, The Farnsworth Art Museum and other entities. "At this point, nothing has been decided, it's a blank sheet of paper," Yoho said.
She added the foundation will not acquire the property from Colby College until a partner or partners have been identified. When the property is passed to another entity, the foundation remains involved.
Issues such as parking will be determined by the entity that takes over the site after restoration.
The proposal by the Kohler Foundation includes allowing the town to use the waterfront property as a public landing and water access site. Select Board Chairman Alton Grover said Cushing would not purchase the land if the proposal was agreed upon by the two parties, but that the town would be responsible for maintaining the roadway.
At the meeting it was decided to take the public water access option off the table for now, as public reaction was tepid with right-of-way access issues, maintenance and limited water access for some vessels.
Yoho said she prefers people in the area be involved and added the foundation welcomes their input.
Blunt said Colby College's future involvement with the estate is a detail that has not been resolved yet. Colby College is unable to maintain the estate.
One resident in favor of the proposed plan said, "This is a remarkable piece of land and a monument to a man who made his reputation here."
Residents agreed that preserving the site would be far better than a housing development on the land if the property on the St. George River was to be separated and privately sold.
Blunt said the land should be kept together because the Langlaises originally lived on the property on the river and their time there is part of the story. "I fully expect Blackie Langlais was inspired by that spot and that environment," said Yoho.
Yoho said the Langlais estate, "is a Maine treasure and you are fortunate to have it in Cushing."
Blunt said she is willing to organize open house tours for people interested in seeing the property.
Courier Publications reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at JLaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.