In 1977, artist Bernard Langlais died at age 56, leaving behind a farmhouse in Cushing, Maine, filled with and surrounded by over 100 of his wooden animal sculptures. His wife, Helen, spent the next three decades preserving her husband’s work. “Bernard Langlais: Live and Let Live On,” at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, brings that work to Wisconsin as part of the first posthumous exhibit of Langlais’ art outside of his home state.
The gallery presents a loving recreation of his farmhouse’s living room. Wooden horses line a mantel above the fireplace, and a Langlais-crafted door – featuring “stained glass” windows made from the bottoms of beer glass bottles – acts as a gateway to the replica “outdoors” section of the gallery where his weather-beaten statues of lions, giraffes and pigs stand guard.
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“To keep the sculptures in pristine form flies in the face of how Langlais approached them,” says guest curator Hannah Blunt. “He enjoyed seeing the snow on them, seeing the birds building nests on them.”
As a result, many of Langlais’ pieces bear the marks of the elements. Detached teeth and claws are some of the only surviving pieces of what was once an 18-foot-tall statue of a bear.
Firsthand accounts of Langlais’ life are also included in the exhibit, such as a May 1978, letter handwritten by Helen: “For me, losing Bernard is as the moon losing the sun. Still I try to go on reflecting his light.” With the efforts of organizations like the Kohler Arts Center, Bernard’s light will continue to shine for decades to come.