Winslow Homer’s Maine studio to open to public

Portland museum completes $2.8 million renovation of painter’s workshop


SCARBOROUGH, Maine — The stu­dio where painter Win­slow Homer de­rived in­spi­ra­tion on Maine's craggy coast and pro­duced some of his most no­ta­ble sea­scapes isn't heated by wood or il­lu­mi­nated by oil lamps the way it was in Homer's day.

But in most other ways, the stu­dio has now been re­stored to what it was like when Homer lived there, from 1883 un­til his death in 1910, fol­low­ing a multi­year, $2.8-mil­lion res­tora­tion by the Port­land Mu­seum of Art.

With the ren­o­va­tion com­plete, the mu­seum will be­gin of­fer­ing pub­lic tours this month, giv­ing vis­i­tors a first­hand look at where Homer be­came one of Amer­ica's fore­most 19th-cen­tury paint­ers and an es­teemed fig­ure in Amer­i­can art. Mu­seum of­fi­cials un­veiled the stu­dio Mon­day to mem­bers of the me­dia and mu­seum sup­port­ers.

There are only a small num­ber of stu­dios of fa­mous art­ists — An­drew Wyeth, Jack­son Pol­lock, Claude Monet, and Fred­eric Church among them — that are open to the pub­lic and al­low peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence what the art­ist ex­pe­ri­enced in his day, Mu­seum Direc­tor Mark Bes­sire said.

The Homer stu­dio, lo­cated on the Prouts Neck pen­in­sula 12 miles south of Port­land, is sig­nifi­cant be­cause it's where Homer's art­work ma­tured and where he cre­ated some of his mas­ter­pieces, he said.

“When Homer comes to Maine, Maine changes the way he painted,” Bes­sire said. “You have art­ist stu­dios where art­ists worked, but then you have art­ist stu­dios where the place ac­tu­ally changed the art­ist.”

Homer was born and raised in Boston and moved to New York as a young man. In his mid-40s, he moved to his fam­ily's es­tate in Maine and lived in a re­mod­eled car­riage house with a sec­ond-story bal­cony and an un­ob­structed view of the ocean.

Homer was al­ready an ac­com­plished art­ist, but it was here where he cre­ated his well-known works fo­cus­ing on man ver­sus na­ture, show­ing the an­gry tu­mul­tu­ous ocean crash­ing against shore and weather-beaten fish­er­men.

After Homer died, the stu­dio passed down among fam­ily mem­bers un­til it was in­her­ited by Homer's great-grand­nephew, Char­les “Chip” Homer Wil­lauer, who for many years lived in the stu­dio in the sum­mer months.

Wil­lauer, 74, was con­cerned about the fu­ture of the build­ing, wor­ried that it would de­te­ri­o­rate over time and be lost to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. In 2006, he sold the struc­ture to the Port­land Mu­seum of Art for $1.8 mil­lion.

The mu­seum spent $2.8 mil­lion ren­o­vat­ing the struc­ture, in­clud­ing sta­bi­liz­ing the foun­da­tion, re­plac­ing the bal­cony, re­stor­ing a chim­ney, re­plac­ing win­dows and re­turn­ing the ex­te­rior to its orig­i­nal green with brown trim. In all, the mu­seum has raised $10.6 mil­lion in a fund­rais­ing cam­paign to pay for the pur­chase and ren­o­va­tion, an en­dow­ment, ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams and ex­hi­bi­tions.

Wil­lauer said he's thrilled with the fin­ished work and happy he doesn't have to worry about the fu­ture of a build­ing that was in­stru­men­tal in Homer's life. But he's not so sure his great-great-un­cle would have un­der­stood all the at­ten­tion.

“I think that Win­slow, who liked his pri­vacy, would have been sur­prised by all the in­ter­est,” Wil­lauer said out­side the stu­dio.

The stu­dio will be open for pub­lic tours be­gin­ning Tues­day. To cel­e­brate the open­ing, the mu­seum is pre­sent­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion, “Weath­er­beaten: Win­slow Homer and Maine,” fea­tur­ing 38 of Homer's oils, wa­ter­col­ors and etch­ings that he pro­duced in his stu­dio. The ex­hi­bi­tion runs through Dec. 30.

The mu­seum will of­fer three tours of the stu­dio a day, 10 peo­ple per tour, in the spring and the fall. Tick­ets are $55 per per­son and $30 for mu­seum mem­bers. Details at  www.port­land­mu­ .

Be­cause there's no pub­lic park­ing on Prouts Neck and the stu­dio is lo­cated in a pri­vate res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood, vis­i­tors will have to take a shut­tle van from the mu­seum. Fewer than 4,000 peo­ple are ex­pected to visit each year.

“This is a shrine,” Bes­sire said. “This is re­ally about a pil­grim­age, and we al­ways meant it to be that way.”