April 8, 2012

Winslow Homer: The artist's place in Maine

As a $10.5 million restoration of the painter's Prouts Neck studio nears the end, Portland Museum of Art prepares a big celebration.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

SCARBOROUGH — Before he came to Maine in the late 1800s, Winslow Homer made paintings and drawings that defined American culture. From his sketches of Civil War battlefields to his paintings of sailboats on the sea and of youngsters playing in the fields, the Boston-born artist projected a collective optimism about America.

click image to enlarge

An albumen print from around 1900 titled “Winslow Homer with ‘The Gulf Stream’ in his painting room at Prouts Neck,” by an unknown photographer, shows the Maine studio where the artist created some of the most iconic images in American art history.

Bowdoin College Museum of Art/Gift of the Homer Family

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Winslow Homer converted a stable designed by John Calvin Stevens into a home and studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough, seen here last month. A six-year renovation project is almost done.

Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

LEARN MORE

For more information about the Winslow Homer Studio Campaign or to make a donation, go to: portlandmuseumofart.org/about/homerstudio

He represented the best that his country had to offer. That which was American also was Winslow Homer.

When Homer came to Maine in 1883, things began to change for him both spiritually and artistically. Figures disappeared from his paintings, and his art became less narrative and more abstract. He reached for big ideas that stretched beyond the horizon and into an unknown place.

If Homer's early work established his place in the art world in post-Reconstruction America, the paintings he made in Maine at the turn of the century provided a foundation for Modernism and ensured his reputation for all time. Homer completed many of the most important paintings of his career, and some of the most iconic images in American art history, while in Maine.

Homer's world during this time centered on a little green clapboard house set back from the rocks at Prouts Neck. He settled into a quiet studio by the sea, converting a stable designed by architect John Calvin Stevens into a cozy, functional home. He added a balcony that overlooked the nearby ledges and ocean, creating an awkward, boxlike abode distinguished by a pair of tall brick chimneys.

But it served him well. Here, with the ocean's surf crashing on the rocks just beyond his windows, Homer created the pictures that characterized the late period of his already successful career.

This fall, the Portland Museum of Art will complete a six-year restoration of that studio. The museum, which purchased the building in 2006 from Homer's heirs, is in the final stages of a $10.5 million fundraising campaign for the project.

Almost all the restoration work is complete, and the PMA plans a gala celebration in September. In conjunction with the opening of the studio at that time, the museum will also open a major exhibition, "Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine," on Sept. 22.

The art show will include most of Homer's major oils and watercolors that he made during his time at Prouts Neck. It will feature works from the museum's own collection, as well as key paintings on loan from museums across the country, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

But the centerpiece – the crown jewel in the PMA's tribute to Homer – will be his studio.

MORE THAN A SUMMER RESIDENT

After moving to Prouts Neck in 1883, Homer remained in Maine until his death at the studio in 1910. He spent most of his time here, hunting and fishing locally and gathering wood for his fireplace from nearby woods.

He was more than a summer resident. He stayed deep into the winter, until his rum bottle froze.

Homer scribbled notes on the walls and etched his name in window glass. Those personal details remain intact, and will be prominently featured when the studio reopens. Reproductions of the paintings he made at the studio will be displayed, along with personal items and the remnants of brushes the museum discovered during an archaeological dig at the studio.

The restoration project is one of the most ambitious and important the museum has undertaken, said PMA director Mark Bessire, who began his duties in spring 2009 when the campaign was at the halfway point. Bessire's predecessor, Daniel E. O'Leary, began the project with the purchase of the studio and led the early fundraising effort.

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Geoffrey Goba, site superintendent for construction managers Marc Truant & Associates, works on the second floor of Winslow Homer’s studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough last month. The restoration of the National Historic Landmark will be the centerpiece of the Portland Museum of Art’s tribute to Homer later this year.

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The wraparound porch at Winslow Homer’s studio at Prouts Neck has been restored to the way it appeared when the artist himself sat on it and gathered inspiration from the sea for his paintings, from the end of the 19th century until his death in 1910.

click image to enlarge

The fireplace and mantel also required significant restoration. As these photographs from last month show, workers are nearing completion of their renovation project, which is one of the most ambitious the Portland Museum of Art has ever undertaken. “A lot of people who are aware of what is going on in the art world have seen a lot of artist studios just disappear from the scene,” said Jeffrey D. Kane, chair of the Winslow Homer Studio Campaign. “This campaign is about preserving a vital link to our past.”

Staff Photographer

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“Weatherbeaten,” an 1894 oil on canvas by Winslow Homer, will be included in a Portland Museum of Art show that opens Sept. 22. Homer lived in Maine from 1883 until his death in 1910.

Photo by Melville D. McLean/Portland Museum of Art

  


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