If you want to see the Winslow Homer studio on Prouts Neck, you’d better plan ahead. The studio tours are sold out through this season, and are filling up with advance reservations for next spring.
Meanwhile, the Portland Museum of Art is selling tickets at a rapid clip to see “Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine,” an exhibition at the downtown museum that launched in mid-September to coincide with the opening of the restored studio.
More than 17,000 people saw the exhibition in its first three weeks, far surpassing the 12,000 who saw a John Marin exhibition during the month of September last year. The Homer show is expected to draw about 75,000 people before it closes Dec. 30.
The exhibition features 38 paintings, watercolors and prints that Homer completed while he lived at his studio in nearby Prouts Neck. The museum recently opened the studio for tours after an extensive preservation project. Homer lived at the studio from 1883 until his death in 1910.
Studio tours are sold out through early December, and will resume in April. “We have already booked 100 seats for next spring,” said Mark Bessire, the museum’s director.
Because of the small size of the studio itself and the arrangement between the museum and the private Prouts Neck community, tours are limited to three daily, Tuesday through Sunday, and a total of 30 people a day. The studio will close for the season Dec. 2.
For the current season, about 1,800 people will tour the studio. Tours leave from the downtown museum by van, and cost $55 for nonmembers.
The interest in Homer is forcing the museum to alter its admission practices for the exhibition. The museum has added a $5 surcharge to all admission prices — nonmember adults would pay $17 to see the Homer exhibit. In addition, the Homer galleries are limited to 60 people each half-hour, requiring a timed-ticket admission policy.
On Friday nights, when the museum is open until 9 p.m. and usually free after 5 p.m., visitors must pay the $5 surcharge to see the Homer show.
The museum has enacted timed-ticketing in the past, but not in many years, said Kristen Levesque, the museum’s public relations director.
The value of the Homer paintings necessitates limiting attendance, she added.
“We have to restrict the number of people in the show at one time because of the fragility of the works and their value,” she said. “It’s an expensive, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, and we want to ensure that people have an enjoyable gallery experience.”
The Portland museum borrowed paintings from institutions across the country to mount this exhibition, and several are considered among the best examples of Homer’s late-career brilliance. Costs associated with securing, transporting and protecting the work necessitate the surcharge, Levesque said.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Brenda Mitchell of North Berwick, who attended the exhibition on Friday afternoon with friends from Connecticut. “Looking at this work feels a little like being at home.”
They purchased their tickets Friday morning for an afternoon admission.
Mitchell’s only complaint was not being able to get close to the paintings to appreciate the intricacies of Homer’s brushwork. “I don’t like having to stand back a foot. I want to get in close and see all the details,” she said.
Sally Foehl of Cape Porpoise toured the studio Friday morning and the exhibition Friday afternoon. A museum member since 2000, she purchased tickets for the studio tour this summer.
“I thought it was marvelous,” she said of the studio. “Especially when you go upstairs, you really begin to appreciate the smallness of the space.”
However, because of the attendance restrictions, the Homer exhibition is not likely to set a new record. The most popular show in the museum’s history was an N.C. Wyeth exhibition in 2000, which drew 82,000 visitors over four months. That was the best-attended year in museum history, with 188,000 visitors. The museum also hosted an Ansel Adams photography exhibition in 2000.
The best month in museum history was August 1997, when 25,000 people viewed simultaneous exhibitions by Andrew Wyeth and Alex Katz.
The reopening of the Homer studio and the “Weatherbeaten” exhibition have garnered international interest.
The Homer hoopla has also boosted museum memberships. The museum has enrolled 432 members since the Homer studio and exhibition opened in September, Bessire said. In September 2011, 115 people became members.
On Sunday, the museum will continue its Homer scholarship when it hosts the symposium “Studio Views.” The educational effort will focus on Homer, artist studios and the role of place in the studio practice.
The museum’s American art curator Karen Sherry will lead the discussion, along with retired art history professor Wanda Corn of Stanford University and Marc Simpson of Williams College. Symposium admission is $20 for nonmembers.
The symposium is from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:
Twitter: pphbkeyesJohn Patriquin/Staff Photographer