PORTLAND, Maine — Don’t worry about the bears at play at the Portland International Jetport — they are actually welcome additions to the city art scene.
The bears are among 10 pieces sculpted by the late Bernard Langlais that are being displayed at public sites throughout the city, including the Ocean Gateway Terminal, the main Portland Public Library and two branches, and all three public high schools.
“I’m absolutely thrilled we have managed to install all these pieces. They are funny and engaging and every other adjective you can think of, and we have them all over the place,” Public Art Committee Chairwoman Lin Linsberger said Monday.
The artwork will be officially introduced in a 3 p.m. ceremony Thursday, Dec. 18, at the Ocean Gateway Terminal at 14 Ocean Gateway Pier. But the sculptures have been visible since installations began in late summer. After renovations are completed at library branches on Peaks Island and at 377 Stevens Ave., sculptures will also be installed there.
The city is one of the largest beneficiaries of Langlais’ work in a program established by Colby College in Waterville and the Kohler Foundation. But the legacy of the Old Town native is now spread through 40 communities as the Langlais Art Trail.
Born in 1921, Langlais studied and worked in Europe and New York City, including time spent in Oslo, studying the work of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, according to langlaisarttrail.org
After tiring of the New York City art scene, Langlais returned to Maine in the late 1960s, turning a 90-acre farm in Cushing into an enormous display space for over-sized wooden sculptures. Before his death in 1977, he created 65 works, a veritable menagerie of lions, giraffes and bears.
That there was no danger or menace in his creations is part of the allure, Linsberger said.
“They are accessible, people get it, nobody has to ask what they are,” she said.
After the death of his widow, Helen Friend Langlais, Langlais’ works and the farm were bequeathed to Colby College. The college is exhibiting his painted work through Jan. 4, 2015, and is working to establish a preserve on the farm, now owned by the Kohler Foundation, with the Georges River Land Trust.
With art sculptures came some restrictions, Linsberger said. All must be exhibited indoors because of the restoration work. The bird houses on view at the high schools are of an easy-to-place size, but Linsberger said the renovated Casco Bay Terminal still lacked room for one of the larger sculptures.
“It was not hard when you have small things, it is quite difficult with bigger things,” she said.
Linsberger credited current Planning Board and former Public Art Committee member Jack Soley with the site selection process, but added some of the choices were easy because of the evident support for the arts.
“We knew the library was a choice because of its extensive collection and because [Executive Director] Steve Podgajny has been a big supporter,” she said.
The standing bear at Ocean Gateway is now adorned for the holidays, an element Linsberger said adds to the levity of the work.
“They are just funny. [Langlais] understood whimsy,” she said. “You get this feeling that someone was having fun.”