Category Archives: December 5

Langlais art at the JML: a source of pride and inspiration for St. George

“Four Lions” by Bernard Langlais

by Katharine Cartwright

In 2013 the Jackson Memorial Library (JML) officially joined the Langlais Art Trail, established through a collaborative effort between the Colby College Museum of Art and the Kohler Foundation, Inc. The goal of the Trail was to link the various non-profit institutions across Maine that agreed to “hold, promote, preserve and exhibit” art objects created by Cushing artist Bernard (Blacky) Langlais (1921-1977). Susan Bates, who was president of the JML Board at the time, thought that “it sounded like a great opportunity for the library” to be part of the Trail. She felt that Langlais’ art would become a notable addition to our culturally rich community and also link the library to other non-profit institutions in Maine. Bates formed an ad hoc committee from the JML Board of Trustees who selected four Langlais works for the library—and also one piece for the St. George School.

The story of how the JML became a part of the Langlais Art Trail is almost as long as the Trail itself. Bernard Langlais was born in 1921 in Old Town, Maine where he grew up. He left Maine after high school to study art at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Over time, the young artist developed into a celebrated innovative modernist painter. But, it wasn’t long before he abandoned painting and turned his interest to making art from wood. In 1956, when he purchased and renovated a summer cottage in Cushing, discarded fragments of wood caught his imagination and he began fashioning them into wood mosaics. He earned critical success In New York where his works were displayed at notable venues including the Whitney Museum. By the mid-1960s, the artist and his wife, Helen Friend, fled the stressful culture of the Big Apple and made the Cushing cottage their permanent residence. Langlais spent the rest of his life on their 90-acre homestead constructing enormous wooden sculptures as well as smaller works depicting the animal kingdom.

“Elephant”, top, and “Jungle Scene” bottom by Bernard Langlais

Because Langlais’ remarkable and unique sculptures gained national recognition and prestigious awards during his lifetime, they became important and valuable. When he died in 1977 at the age of 56, his widow wanted to preserve his body of work for future generations to experience. Therefore, she bequeathed both the art and the homestead to the Colby College Art Museum, who acquired it in 2010 when she died. This was a monumental gift: 2,900 pieces of art and a 90-acre homestead. The college was unable to conserve all the work and manage the property so it forged an agreement with the Kohler Foundation, Inc., to both arrange for distribution of Langlais’ art to non-profit institutions throughout Maine (linking them through the Langlais Art Trail) and find a way to ensure stewardship of the property and its many Langlais sculptures. According to Jane Bianco, a resident of Tenants Harbor and former Fellow at Kohler, “the Foundation does wonderful things in helping to conserve art environments across the country.” Terri Yoho, formerly the Executive Director of the Foundation, Bianco says, was instrumental in not only lining up conservators to work on the sculptures at the Langlais property but also in involving the Georges River Land Trust (GRLT) in providing stewardship for the 90-acre tract itself. This she did by contacting Annette Naegel, Director of Conservation at the GRLT to see if the group would be interested in acquiring the property. Although the homestead was somewhat outside GRLT’s mission, Naegel felt it was significant because of its location within the St. George River watershed region. So the GRLT agreed to acquire the property and through its stewardship establish the Langlais Sculpture Preserve, which is the second largest preserve under the GRLT’s control. The GRLT opened the Preserve to the public in 2015. Many of the artist’s largest sculptures are now on view there as a gift from the Kohler Foundation.

It was in 2013 that Naegel contacted Bates at the JML about acquiring some Langlais pieces for the library, thus adding the JML to the Langlais Art Trail. Naegel also had a larger vision for the art: “I love the idea of the linkage between Langlais and the natural environment. The message of creativity and speaking from nature is important. Just as the St. George River flows through this area, so does Langlais’ artistic voice. His work speaks to people on many levels, including children. It becomes a venue for learning all kinds of things related to the natural environment.”

Indeed, the children of St. George have heard Langlais’ artistic voice and responded to it through their own inspired creations. Over the past several years, 4th graders from the St. George School have participated in a program called “Leaps of Imagination” held at the JML. Like Langlais, they have created art from scraps of wood and other found objects. Many of these are on display at the JML along with the Langlais pieces. Sixth grader, Violet Ward was one of those students. “We were told to create an animal as realistic as we could with pieces of wood we had,” she recalls. Willow Miller, her classmate, adds, “His work is really cool! I wish he was still alive to talk to us [about his work].” Still, Langlais is always speaking to them through his art at the library. Library co-director Beckie Delaney, who works with the children, notes, “I love to tie the Langlais art in with the kids’ projects. From them they learn to work with discarded materials, which is an important lesson in creativity.”

Lynna Henderson, the acting chair of the library’s Board of Trustees, is hoping to raise community consciousness about the works. “We are so very proud of the four Langlais works,” she says. Sharon Moskowitz, co-director of the JML, agrees and feels that the art “is an important asset to the library. People are impressed that we have them.” Prominently displayed across from the library’s front desk, the four Langlais artworks await your visit to experience a safari into the imagination.

You may read more about the Langlais Art Trail at: http://langlaisarttrail.org

(For the past three years Katharine Cartwright, who is an accomplished watercolor artist, has served as The Dragon’s art columnist. We are grateful for her unflagging dedication to promoting awareness of St. George’s artistic life.)

PHOTOS: Betsy Welch

The yin and yang of squirrels

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Eastern Grey Squirrel

After school recently, my son Leif and I came across an Eastern Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) racing up the side of a horse chestnut tree. It was a classic, frantic squirrel run—full of jumps, stares, and bounces as the squirrel seemed to be “freaked” by our presence. Almost as if it had never seen a human on this sidewalk that has been next to that particular tree for several decades at least. Squirrels just love to freak.

We stopped in time to see a second squirrel sticking its head out of a cavity opening lower in the tree and realized this was a housing unit for squirrels. Leif expressed his adoration for the fluffy rodents at this point, as I was thinking, “I, for one, care less for them.” There may be no other animal group that manages to be as under-appreciated and completely overrated at the same time as the squirrels (Corvids may be a close second!). Squirrels—rodents that please as they annoy.

Leif is his own person, of course, and while it was tempting to whip out the old “No son of mine is going to be a squirrel-hugger!!!” attitude, he is free to appreciate whatever rodent he chooses to. We did chat about “what exactly” he liked about the critters, and beyond aesthetic and intrinsic appreciation—which is more than enough to “like” a squirrel on Instagram—we realized we didn’t really know too much about them. It was time to look some scat up!

When we got home Leif started the Grey Squirrel research and quickly found some interesting facts about the species. Members of the order Rodentia, and more specifically the family Sciuridae—Eastern Grey Squirrels are native to eastern North America—from Florida and Texas through southern Manitoba and New Brunswick. Grey Squirrel bodies can be up to a foot long, the bushy tail can add almost another foot in length, and in the wild—away from bird feeders—they average about a pound in weight. Typically grey in color, populations in urban areas where predation is low will often have dark individuals of a “melanistic form.” These black squirrels are loaded with “melanin” and show a higher tolerance for cold temps when compared to the common grey form. We had seen the melanistic form of the Western Grey Squirrel in California last summer, so the thought of seeing a black Eastern Grey Squirrel was pretty exciting.

Leif was surprised to find that people still hunt Grey Squirrels for food, even though “Eleven” cooked one up to eat, only to use it as a weapon, in season two of “Stranger Things.” The info on eating squirrels came with a warning—“Do not eat Grey Squirrel brains.” Apparently Grey Squirrels can transmit Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal degenerative brain disorder for humans. And while we would never wish this disease onto anyone, we found the fact that a dead squirrel can seek revenge with its brain pretty cool. Another reason not to eat squirrel brains.

Leif continued to read about Grey Squirrels caching acorns each winter and how many of these stashed nuts are never retrieved. The whole “forests being planted by forgetful squirrels” was being alluded to, which is a fun perspective on the forests in general.

And while Eastern Grey Squirrels can be beneficial for woods in these parts, this species has been introduced around the globe—from South Africa to Italy to the Hawaiian islands—and is considered an “invasive” pest at several of these landing spots. Eastern Greys were brought to Britain in the 1870s as fashionable additions to estates. That’s right, in 1870s Britain increasing rodent numbers on your property was seen as an upgrade and something to be proud of. The squirrels spread rapidly from these estates and across England and into Wales and Scotland, almost entirely displacing native Red Squirrel populations.

Leif points out a squirrel housing unit

In my experience, it’s New Englanders with bird-feeding systems who are more likely to hold a grudge against Grey Squirrels than anyone else (squirrels stealing bird food, how rude!). I developed my dislike of squirrels through interactions with the American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Many a serene moment has been dislodged and re-directionalized by a Red Squirrel screaming alarm at my presence. I never find their bones in pellets or their remains below a nest of a predator, so I can’t even write off their annoying traits with a “they-are-an-important-part-of-the-food-chain” talk. The best I can come up with, and I have tried, is that they tidy up the woods a little. Each fall local Red Squirrels have made piles of spruce cones in the woods. The cones will soon be cached in between tree roots and under logs for future meals. When the best thing you can say about an animal is that once a year it “cleans” the forest, you know they take up little space in your heart. Sorry Red Squirrels, but not sorry.

I try hard to let Leif make up his own mind about what he likes be it movies, music, nature or whatever. Although they are correct, I keep my negative judgments to myself when he shows interest in something I am not a particular a fan of. Our talk about squirrels was one of the hardest tests of this “perspective control,” but in the end he is, of course, free to like them if he wants. Maybe our views aren’t complimentary enough to be yin and yang, but it’s always great to see how his mind works. I think that means I may be appreciating squirrels in a way. Darn.

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

A memorable visit with author Cynthia Lord

Cynthia Lord and Lily Thissell

by Anya Felton

Cynthia Lord is an award-winning Newberry Medal author who lives in Maine. She has written five novels for pre-teens which include Rules, Touchblue, Because of the Rabbit, a Handful of Stars, and Half a Chance. She has also written many more books for young children. Rules has gotten more awards than any of them and is her bestselling novel.

This fall this amazing author came to our school again. She had come here for the first time in 2011, five years after Rules came out. We were all so excited to get to meet her and learn some of her techniques. She talked about how many of her books had events that had actually happened in her life. For example, in Rules there is a boy with autism and her own son has autism. She talked about how she used real places and turned them into fictional places where her characters can go. She talked about how she sometimes didn’t give the characters what they wanted at the end. She gave them what they needed.

After she talked with us, two 6th graders showed her their Little Free Library that they had made last year in 5th grade with their teacher Mrs. Christine Miller.

Then, two 7th graders took her down the path to the town Library where they showed her around JML. After she got back, she had a pizza lunch with some of the 8th graders. These 8th graders had read her books and made projects about them. The 8th graders showed her their work. Some had made a Monopoly game from the events and places in Touchblue; and Leilani Myers, Isla Michell and Chase Jansen even gave her their project—a 3-D cutout of a scene from A Handful of Stars. Cynthia was very happy and touched by these thoughtful hand-made projects about her work.

When she got back home she posted about us publicly on Facebook: “Yesterday I went back to St. George School in Tenants Harbor, Maine. I was very touched that the school had put time in my schedule for the kids to show me the Little Free Library down at the Town Landing that they had built and to give me a tour of their public library (new since my last visit). I love how strongly the kids are connected to their community.”

After Cynthia left we wrote little notes to send to her. They included comments like “amazed and inspired” and lessons learned—things like [I learned] “that you need to be passionate and patient to be a writer” and that it takes a long time and lots of revisions to write a book.

All of us really feel that this was a memorable learning experience and we had an amazing time asking questions about Cynthia’s work and learning about her life before she was an author.

(Felton is a 7th-grade student at the St. George School.)

PHOTO: Sonja Schmanska

Learning to see

St. George School students practice drawing skills with Port Clyde artist Sandra Dickson as part of “The Young Artists Program.”

by Julie Ryan and Natalie Gill

Over the past several years at the St. George School we have developed an after-school activity called “The Young Artists Program.” This extra-curricular program consists of serious, creative students who are interested in working with professional, local artists who teach the students skills in drawing, painting or clay work. This program is not just another art class, as it is designed to give students the opportunity to delve deep into a focused medium and explore it while working with a professional artist.

This school year, the Georges River Education Foundation (GREF) has donated money to our school so that we could hire a professional portrait artist—Sandra Dickson—to work with middle-level students who are serious about learning how to draw faces. She is working with us to help us learn “to see.” Drawing teaches people to observe beyond what they know, to slow things down. She helps students see the light and dark parts of a face and recognize shapes. The students love to see the difference between their first drawings during the four-week class compared to their last drawings. It really helps to feel encouraged when you can see how much you have improved!

This class has been enabling students to build confidence, strengthen learning skills and become less afraid to make mistakes because mistakes can help students learn.

Thank you GREF for your generous donation and thank you Sandra for working with our creative, talented students here at the St. George school!

(Ryan teaches art at the St. George School, where Gill is a 7th-grade student.)

PHOTO: Sonja Schmanska

Remembering Jack McDonough

John J. (Jack) McDonough, M.D., of Tenants Harbor died November 7 with the love of his life, his wife Barbara Aras, by his side. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jack pursued a distinguished career as a surgeon specializing in hand and microvascular surgery, most of it at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and in a private practice he founded with fellow surgeons Peter Stern and Thomas Kiefhaber.

In later life Jack, a keen sailor, considered Tenants Harbor his chosen home. Jack’s passion for history, especially of the Civil War, led him to also pursue a study of the history of the St. George peninsula. He was an enthusiastic volunteer at the Marshall Point Lighthouse Museum, where he loved sharing the lighthouse’s history with visitors from all over the world. He was also a loyal volunteer at the Jackson Memorial Library.

Following his wishes, there will be no service. Jack was an ardent supporter of local education, especially that provided by the St. George School. Donations in his memory can be made to: St. George MSU Building Fund, 65 Main Street, PO Box 153, Tenants Harbor, Maine 04860.