UMPI owl sculpture saved in time for homecoming

A deteriorating 30-foot-tall wood sculpture of owls has been restored and relocated after more three decades on the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus. A dedication ceremony is planned for Saturday as part of UMPI homecoming celebrations.
Cassandra Green
A deteriorating 30-foot-tall wood sculpture of owls has been restored and relocated after more three decades on the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus. A dedication ceremony is planned for Saturday as part of UMPI homecoming celebrations. Buy Photo
Posted Sept. 14, 2012, at 3:04 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A 35-year-old wood sculpture of owls on the front lawn of the University of Maine at Presque Isle campus has been disassembled, moved, rebuilt and restored, just in time for homecoming celebrations this weekend.

Sculpted out of salvaged timber from the old Portland granary, the Langlais Owls, named after sculptor Bernard Langlais, are five huge wooden owls — the four shorter standing at 18 feet surrounding a 30-foot-tall owl in the center.

Over the past three decades the base of the Langlais Owls had begun to erode and rot away, and threatened to collapse. The sides of the owls also were rotting.

Maine artist Langlais created the totem pole artwork shortly before his unexpected death in 1978 and the owls arrived on campus that January as part of the state’s bicentennial sculpture program.

The sculpture, symbolizing the UMPI mascot, originally was located between Emerson Hall and Main Street so it could be viewed by both students on campus and residents of Presque Isle.

As part of the restoration process, however, the university also decided to move the artwork to a more accessible and centrally located area on campus, near the classroom buildings of Wieden and Pullen halls.

The Bernard Langlais Foundation, through the Maine Community Fund, donated $5,000 to UMPI for the restoration effort.

The UMPI Alumni Association also began a campaign to raise another $10,000 to $15,000 to complete the preservation effort.

“It was important for the alumni to see the statues reinstalled because it was a symbol or gathering place for them,” said Keith Madore, director of Development and Alumni Relations. “Some would even rub the statues for luck before a test.” The sculpture is also a location for photos, TV coverage, campus publicity, marriage proposals and graduation photos, so the desire of those involved is to have this continue at the new location.

About 54 to 60 inches of the rotted base was removed before the move, and various chemicals were used to kill mold and fungus and to restore and preserve the wood, according to Al Levesque, a building and grounds employee at the university.

He said epoxy filler was mixed with pieces of the decayed wood in order to fill the many aged areas. Finally, Levesque said, workers used a nonglossy top coat of urethane to keep the sculpture as visually authentic as possible. Some of the original paint even remains visible after the restoration process.

Levesque also said that if properly maintained, the Langlais Owls should last another 40 years.

A new base also was constructed to prevent water erosion and damage. Most of the site work was completed by University of Maine at Presque Isle workers, Levesque said. There also are plans to surround the sculpture with benches and lighting, he said.

The newly restored sculpture will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Sept. 15 at at its new location between Wieden and Pullen halls as part of homecoming ceremonies.

Madore reported that the University of Maine at Presque is still accepting donations for the restoration, as the complete project will exceed $20,000.

Anyone looking to donate may visit http://www.umpi.edu/alumni-friends/save-the-owls, or contact Keith Madore at the Alumni Relations & Development Office at the University of Maine at Presque Isle at 207-768-9568 or keith.madore@umpi.edu.

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