Take a virtual tour of the Winslow Homer studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough, which the Portland Museum of Art will open for tours on Sept. 25.

September 16, 2012

What Winslow Homer saw in Maine

The artist's profound impact on American art flourished during his time in Maine. Now, access to his newly restored Prouts Neck studio helps us see why.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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A picture window in the parlor of Winslow Homer’s studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough offers an impressive view of the ocean, an inspiration for the artist in his day.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough will open to the public Sept. 25.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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"WEATHERBEATEN: WINSLOW HOMER AND MAINE"

WHEN: Opens Saturday. On view through Dec. 30.

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with extended hours to 9 p.m. Fridays through Columbus Day. After Columbus Day, the museum is closed Mondays.

HOW MUCH: $12; $10 for seniors and students with ID; $6 for ages 13 to 17; free for ages 12 and younger; free for all after 5 p.m. Friday

INFO: 775-6148; portlandmuseum.org

WINSLOW HOMER: A BRIEF HISTORY

Feb. 24, 1836: Winslow Homer is born in Boston.

1859: Homer opens a studio in New York City.

1861: Harper’s magazine dispatches Homer to sketch scenes from the Civil War.

1863-66: Homer exhibits war-scene paintings at the National Academy of Design.
Post-Civil War: Homer concentrates on his work as a serious, fine-art painter and creates several seminal paintings, including “Snap the Whip” and “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind).”

1881-82: Homer spends two years in England at the coastal village of Cullercoats, developing a fondness for painting working men and women. His paintings take on a new degree of seriousness.

1883: Homer arrives at Prouts Neck in Maine and hires Portland architect John Calvin Stevens to renovate a carriage house as his home and studio.

1890: Homer adds a piazza and painting room to the Prouts Neck cottage.

1893: Homer exhibits his painting “Signal of Distress” at the Portland Society of Art (now known as the Portland Museum of Art).

Sept. 29, 1910: Homer dies in his studio at Prouts Neck. He is interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.

1966: Prouts Neck studio named a National Historic Landmark.

2006: The Portland Museum of Art purchases the Prouts Neck studio from Homer’s heirs and begins a six-year project to restore it to how it looked during Homer’s time.

Sept. 25, 2012: The Prouts Neck studio is scheduled to open to the public.

– Staff Writer Bob Keyes

But the family did not alter the character of the place, and the changes they made were relatively minor and reversible.

"They did a great job over the years preserving the integrity of the place," Whitaker said. "They always paid homage to Homer. They knew how important he was, and took care to not disturb the essence of the studio."

Whitaker and his partner, Don Mills, spent many hours in museums and libraries in search of photos and documentation that informed their work. The museum commissioned an architectural dig, and hired a team of mostly Maine specialists and craftsmen to do the bulk of the preservation work.

Among other things, the dig turned up two paintbrush handles, which are on view in the PMA's Sweat Galleries in Portland. Also on view in Portland are Homer's easel, paint box and oil-skin hat.

The museum divided up the artist's personal artifacts between the downtown campus and the Prouts Neck studio so visitors who do not go to the studio can get a sense of the place and how Homer lived there.

'THIS PLACE CHANGED HIM'

At the studio, no detail was too small when it came to the preservation.

The lattice that craftsmen made for the veranda looks exactly as it did in Homer's time, based on historical photos. The twin chimneys, which form an iconic image of the studio, were reconstructed and repointed. The fireplace was rebuilt brick by brick. The patina of the wood-stained walls was largely untouched.

If we could turn back the clock, it would be 1890 -- with a modern sprinkler system, electronic surveillance and other 21st-century features that are largely hidden from public view.

It is a spartan, simple cottage. Homer lived here mostly in the summer, fall and into early winter. The building was not insulated, although the large fireplace offered some heat.

The artist left his mark. He scratched his name in the glass of a window and scribbled notes on the walls. All those notes have been preserved, including one written in pencil: "Oh what a friend chance can be when it chooses." The quotation is from the novel "The Clique of Gold," which sits on Homer's library shelf.

The bottle jack that Homer used for roasting meat dangles from the ceiling by the fireplace. On the mantel is a sign he set out to discourage visitors: "Snakes -- Snakes! Mice!" Bounties of his hunting and fishing expeditions hang on the walls.

Homer's reputation as a painter became much grander after he came to Maine. His time at the studio affected him in dramatic ways, said museum director Mark Bessire, who inherited the project from his predecessor, Daniel O'Leary.

"His art was always a part of forging our national identity," Bessire said. "He made a lot of really important paintings before he came to Maine. He was already the voice of his generation. But then he comes to Maine, and the platform changes. He becomes the voice for the next generation too.

"When he turns his focus to nature, he finds his true calling, which is painting the world in front of him. This place changed him. It's all about the place. That is our mantra."

Homer also is a pivotal figure in Maine art. Frederic Edwin Church painted in Maine before him, but Homer is viewed as the father of Maine art. Because of his presence here and his success as an international artist, others came to Maine after him in search of some of the themes that Homer captured in his work.

If not for Homer, Maine very likely would not have been a draw for N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, John Marin and countless others, Bessire said. If not for Homer, Marsden Hartley might not have come home.

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Additional Photos

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Winslow Homer's "Weatherbeaten," 1894, oil on canvas

Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Charles Shipman Payson. Photo by Melville D. McLean.

  


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