PORTLAND - An artist who lived and worked at Prouts Neck in Scarborough more than a century ago helped the Portland Museum of Art set a new monthly attendance record.
More than 25,700 people visited the museum during December, shattering the previous mark set in 1997.
Museum officials said the collection of 38 Winslow Homer paintings, watercolors and prints helped draw 79,000 people to the Congress Square museum since the exhibit, "Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine," opened Sept. 22.
In addition, museum officials said the Homer exhibit drove up museum support, adding 1,700 people to its membership rolls.
Enthusiasm for the exhibit did not wane Sunday night -- the last night of the exhibit -- as dozens of Homer fans ignored below-freezing temperatures and snow-covered streets and sidewalks to gaze longingly at Homer's scenes of sunsets, boats, and waves crashing on rocks.
"It has been non-stop since we opened the doors," said Ann Merrill, who was selling tickets Sunday night.
"Weatherbeaten" coincided with the museum's opening of the Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck to public tours. Those tours will resume April 2, although Homer's paintings will be gone by then.
Kristen Levesque, the museum's director of public relations, said the museum purchased Homer's Prouts Neck studio in 2006. The studio was restored and opened for public tours this fall, attracting more than 1,800 visitors.
The tours allowed visitors to actually go to the physical locations -- overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the Scarborough Marsh, Pine Point and Saco Bay -- where Homer painted.
Levesque said the exhibit also represented the first time that Homer's paintings had been displayed in one location in Maine.
Homer's well-known painting "Fox Hunt," which depicts a fox being hunted by crows on a snow-covered beach, has not been in Maine since it was painted in 1893. It was loaned to the museum by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
"This whole experience of seeing all these Homer paintings together is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Levesque said.
Jim Quincy of Arundel was impressed.
"I think it's the single greatest art exhibit I've ever seen," Quincy said, as he stared at Homer's "West Point" painting, which shows the sun setting over Saco Bay. The colors of the sunset are bright orange and red, interspersed with gray clouds.
"It's breathtaking," Quincy said.
Chelsea Metivier came somewhat reluctantly to the Homer exhibit with her mother but she left feeling glad she made the effort.
"I didn't grow up in Maine so his work didn't really resonate with me," said Metivier, who has visited art exhibits around the world. "But I am glad I came. His work certainly depicts Maine and what we love most about it."
Joe Cestone and his wife, Debora, of New Rochelle, N.Y., are visiting friends in Kennebunk for the holidays.
Joe Cestone said he was struck by Homer's ability to capture the colors of "the rugged outdoor world."
"It's a wonderful exhibit. The paintings are so dramatic ... there is so much color," his wife added.
Lou Lacagnina said his favorite Homer painting on display in the Portland exhibit was "Fox Hunt."
"I love his stuff but 'Fox Hunt,' that's a classic," said Lacagnina, a resident of Riverside, Conn., who plans to celebrate New Year's Eve with friends in Freeport.
Homer was born in 1836. He first came to Maine in 1875 to visit his brother, Arthur, who was on his honeymoon.
Homer fell in love with Prouts Neck, a peninsula community about 12 miles south of Portland.
He would spend the rest of his life there, producing a body of seascapes considered among America's greatest pieces. He died on Sept. 29, 1910, in his Prouts Neck studio.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: