Eastern Tire’s Garage Gallery puts the headlights on Langlais
ROCKLAND — On any given day, there’s a lot going on at Eastern Tire, and we’re not talking just tires. The Rockland garage operates like a jazz ensemble, with customers coming and going, phones — cell and landline —ringing, and conversations are all over the place. Then there is the art and sometimes even live music.
Over the past 10 years, the lobby of Eastern Tire, at 70 Park Street, has taken on new dimensions, and these days it draws a crowd. There is, of course, the constant flow of customers getting snows off and summer treads on. But then there are the gallery-goers, the art appreciators, on the path of eclectic exhibits, and they are finding Garage Gallery.
Through the end of June, the Garage Gallery is hosting early work of Bernard Langlais, an eccentric and prolific artist around whom a trail has been created through the state, from Lubec to Dover Foxcroft and Ogunquit, as well as a Cushing sculpture preserve.
The art cognoscenti love Langlais, a mid-20th Century artist who died in 1977. Now Eastern Tire, with close ties to the George’s River Land Trust, and the Langlais Sculpture Preserve is exhibiting Langlais’ earliest — and never before exhibited — art.
And in Maine, being Maine, there is nothing incongruous about a Langlais art exhibit hanging between posters of workplace safety or commercial tire brands.
“They come in, having seen the publicity about the art,” said Alvin Chase, describing visitors who are looking for Langlais work. Alvin owns Eastern Tire, along with his brother, Aaron, and he loves the notion of art and motors and vehicle suspension systems all intertwining, like improv.
“They get through the door with a deer in the headlight look in their eyes, as far as the counter. But then, they start to relax, and we start talking, and they don’t leave.”
Why would they?
The large room is filled with comfortable leather couches and chairs, the coffee is always on, and dogs, in particular, the Black Lab Filson, maintain an exalted status. Plus, the light cheerfully pours through large windows to illuminate the art.
Eastern Tire is hosting the 20 paintings and carvings, as part of the George’s River Land Trust outreach to share Langlais’ work. The work is part art of the larger Langlais Sculpture Preserve Collection gifted to the Land Trust by Colby College Museum of Art and the Kohler Foundation in 2015, have been newly restored and framed through a grant from the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.
Langlais was born in Old Town, studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the Brooklyn Museum Art School, and as a Fulbright Scholar to study the paintings of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch in Oslo.
He was part of the 1950s NYC art scene, and then came home, back to Maine and the St. George peninsula. He died at age of 56, rough, wild and scruffy, as well-known artists often get in Maine, laying down close to the rugged landscape.
Best known locally for the process he termed painting with wood, a technique he initiated in 1956 while renovating his summer cottage in Cushing, he created mammoth wooden sculptures. Langlais’s early painting style also provides new insight into the artist’s evolution.
Both Aaron and Alvin Chase are third-generation owners of the Eastern Tire, which was founded in the same location on Park Street in 1946. It has come a long way since those days, but it is still Maine. No national chain has purchased it, and the business has its own unique character.
“I want you to know,” said Alvin, speaking conspiratorially into customer’s ears, as they settled into the couches with their laptops and books, “that you just missed a live concert here.”
At the counter stood an elderly gentleman, shoulders bent with age, paying his bill. But just 10 minutes prior, he had been on his keyboard in the waiting room, putting the swing to the room.
Other customers come and go, the entrance like a revolving door at Macy’s, and you never know who’ll arrive next. Polly, a jewelry maker, rode her bike down from Camden to pick up her vehicle. Chris Rector, who works for Angus King, checked his phone. Barb, who works at a local resort, reported that 50 weddings were already lined up for the season.
Others came in from the islands, after the long winter. Or, they were flying into Knox County Regional Airport and giving a call to make sure their tires will be ready.
At the counter, Aaron answered the phone, advising on a certain brand of tire.
“You don’t want them,” he said. “Well, you do if you want to spend $700 a tire. Those [well known brand name] are stupid, stupid money. But I could have them tomorrow.”
Another customer gets advice about a drive shaft.
“Where’s the puppy,” a customer asks.
“Over there on the couch.”
Even though Filson is now a grown dog, big and taking up half the couch.
Eastern Tire is the kind of place where the coffee table has a large book about Langlais, a local dog newspaper, a magazine for seniors. Bags of Rock City Coffee, the locally-produced coffee by a company owned by employees, are on a smaller table, for sale.
“People think it’s weird, a garage with art gallery,” said Alvin.
But he knows better. And after the Langlais exhibit, his regular crew of artists, the Lively Ladies, will again hang their art on the walls.
The phone rings, and it’s another customer.
“Talk to me,” says Alvin.
And business continues at 70 Park Street, like a good jazz concert, with a lot of improv.
For more information on Bernard “Blackie” Langlais, visit http://langlaisarttrail.org
The Garage Gallery is holding another opening for the Langlais work, before taking it down at the end of June. The Second Chance Opening is June 1, 5-7 p.m.
Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at firstname.lastname@example.org; 207-706-6657