In September 2012, the Portland Museum of Art opened the Prouts Neck studio where American painter Winslow Homer lived and painted many of his masterpieces from 1883 until his death in 1910.
This is a must for Homer fans. Docent-led tours depart from the Portland museum, and advance reservations are required. The schedule varies with the season.
Homer’s family was instrumental in establishing the summer colony on Prouts Neck, a thumb of land edged with beaches and tipped with granite reaching into the Atlantic in Scarborough, just south of Portland. The studio, originally the carriage house for Homer’s The Ark, the adjacent house owned by Homer’s brother Charles, was moved 100 feet and converted to living quarters in 1883 by Portland architect Jon Calvin Stevens, one of the founders of the Shingle Style. The piazza, pergola, and later the painting room were added for Homer
Homer painted some of his greatest works, masterpieces such as Weatherbeaten, The Fog Warning, and The Gulf Stream, at this oceanfront studio, taking inspiration from the crashing surf, craggy shores, stormy seas, and dense fog. Standing in the studio puts you right at the scene, and the docent-led tours will explain the artist’s importance in American art.
Visitors to the studio will have the opportunity to experience the inspiration for Homer’s creativity. The simplicity of the studio, with its beadboard wall and ceiling, tongue-and-groove floor, brick fireplace, is pure Maine cottage. Some original furnishings and artifacts add context to understanding Homer. These include the Snakes! Snakes! Mice! sign he painted to scare off ladies who might be inclined to visit; the window in which he etched his name; the writings on the wall, such as Oh what a friend chance can be when it chooses; and a book of family photographs.
Copies of his artwork, displays, and a slide show of images are displayed in the painting room or The Factory as he called it. Especially intriguing are the Civil War sketches he made for Harpers Weekly, while embedded with the Army of the Potomac.
The views from the second-floor piazza are the same as when Homer lived here. Standing here gazing at the open Atlantic, listening to waves crash, gulls cry, and the wind rustling the trees, and maybe wrapped in the damp hush of fog, is perhaps the best place to begin to truly understand Homer’s inspiration. As he wrote: “The sun will not rise or set, without my notice and thanks. The life I have chosen gives me hours of enjoyment for the balance of my life.”
After absorbing the view and walking to the oceanfront, you’ll see the Homer works at the museum with a far deeper understanding of what made this genius tick.
Homer’s ties with the Portland Museum of Art date back to his 1893 exhibition here, which included Signal of Distress. On the centennial of Homer’s death, the museum opened its Charles Shipman Payson wing, honoring the man who funded it and donated 17 paintings by Homer to the museum.
The museum acquired Homer’s studio, a National Historic Landmark, in 2006, and began a six-year project to restore it to its 1910 appearance.
The 2.5-hour tours are limited to 10 participants and cost $55 for the public, $30 for museum members. Reservations are required.
Although the tours will originate at the museum, to immerse yourself in the Homer experience, consider staying at the Black Point Inn, the only lodging on Prouts Neck. Guests can wander a path around the tip of the point, passing Homer’s studio in the process; follow nature paths through a sanctuary, donated by Homer’s family; and see the church, also financed by the family; not to mention savor the setting, with views north to Portland and south to Old Orchard. The inn provides a charming respite, access to two beaches, golf privileges, and divine views (hint: don’t miss the cupola).