NORWAY — The year before renowned Maine artist Bernard Langlais died, Scott Vlaun was an 18-year-old environmental studies major teetering on the edge of dropping out of school. That summer, a professor invited him to Langlais’ home in Cushing, where interns were working at the sculptor’s shop.

Amid reliefs, paintings and towering wooden sculptures, Vlaun decided that was that — against his parents’ wishes, he enrolled in art school in Portland.

“It rocked my world,” Vlaun said. 

After Langlais died in 1977, much of his estate was donated to Colby College in Waterville and dispersed to Maine communities, libraries and schools as part of the Langlais Art Trail.

Vlaun was never able to work with Langlais — until this past fall. 

One day in late October, Vlaun got an unexpected call. The Western Foothills Land Trust had recently acquired six of Langlais’ sculptures and installed them at the Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve on Crockett Ridge Road.

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The first five went in without a hitch. The last, “Mrs. Noah,” a 20-foot sculpture of a woman with birds on her outstretched arms, was being moved in stages. 

Then a strap, holding a 4,000-pound section of the concrete-and-stone foundation, snapped. The piece fell, breaking into several thousand-pound pieces. 

Calling an art restoration company would have delayed installation for months, said Lee Dassler, the land trust’s director. But there was another option: Vlaun. He was local, had an art degree and was well-known for building with rebar, concrete and wood.

“He’s a jack and artisan of all trades,” Dassler said.

So Vlaun, 39 years after enviously watching Langlais’ interns, finally got his chance to work on Langlais’ piece. He numbered the fragments, and over the next few weeks, rebuilt the foundation faithful to the original design. 

“You can tell it was repaired, and see where it was mortared to honor that story and make it part of the story of the piece,” Vlaun said. “His hand was in that concrete, and the work looks a certain way that it wouldn’t if we’d just poured another base of concrete.”

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Langlais, who will be the featured artist at the Norway Arts Festival on Friday, July 8, may be best known for his wooden 70-foot Skowhegan Indian.

Born in Old Town, Langlais studied painting in Brooklyn and then Oslo, Norway, working in New York in the 1950s and 1960s.

His work spanned many mediums, but he is well-known for the monumental wood sculptures depicting animals, or mosaics of wood scraps he termed “painting with wood.” 

In all, the land trust acquired eight sculptures, which got Norway Arts Festival organizer Judy Schneider thinking. Traditionally featured artists won the previous years’ top prize for art — why not revamp it this year? 

“We were flying by the seat of our pants, trying to think of someone, when this fell into our lap,” Schneider said. “But Langlais worked with a medium and topics very familiar to Norway.” 

The art festival will run all day Saturday, July 9, on Main Street, which will be closed to traffic from in front of the Advertiser Democrat building to Danforth Street, with live performances, workshops and demonstrations. Rain date is Sunday, July 10.

Vlaun will give a talk on Langlais at the Norway Memorial Library on 7 p.m. Friday, July 8, to kick off the art festival. He said it was intimidating at first seeing the concrete just sitting there. But once he got to work, it became a job.

“When I met Langlais, he had interns helping him and I remember thinking, ‘Man it would be really cool to work with this guy.’ It’s just kind of funny 39 years later I ended up working on one of his sculptures.” 

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