Winslow Homer: Visiting the studio of the master of Maine Coast painters

Winslow Homer opened the eyes of the world to the rugged beauty of the Maine coast. The Prouts Neck studio where he worked is open to the public.

0936 Prout's Neck Maine Homer Studio
The Winslow Homer studio, Prout’s Neck, Maine

He first visited Maine in the 1870s, but it was when his brother Charles established a summer home on the rocky point known as Prouts Neck in 1883  that Homer fell in love with the craggy, wind- and wave-swept place and its rock-bound shores. With his brother’s agreement, a small carriage barn on the property was moved about two hundred feet further up the shore and converted into a studio. So important to the painter was the site that he returned every summer to immerse himself in this powerful environment until his death in 1910.

0980 harper's Weekly with a Homer Civil War illustration
A Homer print from Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War

A Winslow Homer oil of the coast outside kis cottage at the Portland Art Museum

A Coast to Inspire the Soul of an Artist

While he was resident there, Homer relished the closeness of the waves crashing on the shore and the surging power of the sea, often recording them in his paintings. The studio where he lived and worked is simple and small, and the original mansard-roofed carriage house still shows clearly beneath later additions. Homer expanded the second floor level and added a covered porch there for a view out over the ocean that he loved. At the back of the cottage he added a painting room, which he was known to have referred to as “the factory”, and where many of his later works were painted.

The Artist’s Studio: A Meticulous Restoration

For almost a century after his death, the Winslow Homer studio was a private summer home, until the Portland Museum of Art acquired it in 2006 and began the dual tasks of restoration and fund-raising. Six years and millions of dollars later, the house has been restored to its appearance as Homer knew it, preserving all of the original parts of the house. More than a century old, the building needed major foundation and structural work, but each board was carefully removed, marked and stored for replacement in its original place. When necessary, replacement materials were meticulously replicated, so faithfully that they cannot be differentiated from the originals.

0963 daybed Winslow Homer Studio, Prouts Neck, Maine
A day bed, Winslow Homer studio, Prouts Neck, Maine

So careful has the restoration been that Winslow Homer’s penciled words can still be seen on the walls. On one close to the door, hard to see but still legible, is the phrase “Oh, What a grand friend chance can be when it chooses.”  No effort has been made to furnish the studio as Homer did, although most of the furnishings and details have Homer connections. Among the more interesting artifacts are two dried fish that Homer mounted on wooden plaques, hung on a wall over an old rattan day-bed next to framed photos of Homer fishing with friends. Look closely to see the touches of color added by Homer. A wooden settee overlooks the fireplace, which is crowned with a large set of antlers. On the mantle sits a sign Homer painted to discourage drop-in female admirers, saying “Snakes—Snakes—Mice !”

0967 Sign Homer used to ward off unwanted visitors
Sign the Homer used to ward off curious women visitors.

Winslow Homer Masterpieces in Portland

The Portland Museum of Art, not far away in Portland, is home to the masterpiece Weatherbeaten, painted at the studio in 1894. The Payson wing of the museum houses a stunning collection of Homer’s work, including 17 paintings donated by Charles Shipman Payson. It also houses the most complete known collection of Homer’s lithographic works.

1041 Weather Beaten, Winslow Homer, Portland Museum of Art
A Winslow Homer oil of the coast outside his cottage at the Portland Art Museum

Tours of the studio begin at the Portland Museum of Art. Visits are limited to three groups of ten persons per day and participants are transported to Prouts Neck by the Museum. Reservations are required (207 775-6148).

The beautifully restored Black Point Inn at Prouts Neck (the area was originally called Blacks Point) is within a short walk of the studio, which can be viewed from the road or from the shore path that circles the point. But the only way to tour Homer’s studio is from the museum.  Portland is easily accessed through its own airport or through Logan airport in Boston. There is regularly scheduled train service from Boston to Portland, or it is a two-hour drive from Boston.

 

 

 

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