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Homer's sweet home: Portland Museum of Art prepares Prout's Neck studio in Scarborough for public tours

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Homer's sweet home: Portland Museum of Art prepares Prout's Neck studio in Scarborough for public tours

SCARBOROUGH — Winslow Homer traveled the world in search of inspiration for his art.

And he found plenty along the rocky shores of Scarborough, working in a converted carriage house on Prout's Neck that will be opened to public tours beginning Sept. 25.

'We want an authentic experience. We want people to come here and get a sense of who Homer was," said Kristen Levesque, director of marketing and public relations at the Portland Museum of Art.

Levesque said Homer would wander Prout's Neck and sketch scenes, but finshed his work indoors and lived nearly year round in the studio. Much of the work competed at the studio captures seas roiling over rocks to a view from the shore looking up to the fog-bound studio.

Through a $10.5 million capital campaign, the museum was able to buy the property in 2006. It spent $2.8 million to restore the 2,300-square-foot, two-story structure, and created an endowment for exhibitions and care of the building.

Scarborough tax records show the museum bought the property – just over 1/10th of an acre – for $1.8 million.

Homer's studio was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and is tucked into an area his family bought in the mid-1880s and hoped to develop as an artist's colony.

By then, Homer was approaching 50 and known for his magazine illustrations from the Civil War, and oil or watercolor landscapes.

Before making Scarborough his permanent home, Homer lived in Cullercoats, a North Sea town in the United Kingdom. Levesque said Homer continued to travel after settling in Scarborough, but died in his studio in 1910 at age 74.

Levesque noted Home did not enjoy distractions as he worked in the studio, which was moved from its original site near a family home called "The Ark," and redesigned by Portland architect John Calvin Stevens. Yet there are extensive photos of him at work and of the studio, which proved invaluable in the restoration process.

The photos allowed restorers to count exterior clapboards, and Levesque said the interior pine walls and floors were dismantled and cleaned. Excavation below Homer's painting room turned up empty paint bottles and brush tips. His name is etched into a first-floor library window, and his pencilled literary quotations are still visible on walls.

The interior restoration recaptures Homer's working environment, and the exterior piazza facing the ocean has been reinforced with steel beams so visitors can step into the view, which on a sunny day extends beyond Old Orchard Beach to the mouth of the Saco River.

The piazza was a major addition by Stevens, but was already faltering while Homer was alive. Workers also rebuilt the studio's mansard roof and the ladder Homer used to climb to a rooftop perch.

The artist's passions beyond the palate are well represented inside with his pipe, fishing rod, an eel spear and nets. A sign on the mantle warning of abundant snakes and mice was once posted outdoors as a way to keep out sightseers Homer called "rusticators."

On the second floor, space has been devoted to highlighting other artists who have worked in Maine or called it home. Levesque said the multimedia presentations will be changed to keep things fresh.

The studio will open with a Sept. 17 ceremony and press preview, and public tours begin Sept. 25. Access is limited to 10 visitors at a time, who will be driven to the studio in a van from the Congress Square museum in Portland.

Studio tours will end for the year on Dec. 2, and resume next spring from April 2 to June 14. Levesque said no tour schedule has been determined beyond next spring.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Photo: Melville D. McLean
Winslow Homer painted "Weatherbeaten" in 1894. The oil on canvas at the Portland Museum of Art is a bequest of Charles Shipman Payson.

Homer on display

To help celebrate the opening of the Homer studio at Prout's Neck, the Portland Museum of Art, which owns more than 400 of Winslow Homer's works, will feature 35 oils and watercolors on loan from museums around the country in a exhibition called "Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine." The exhibition will run Sept. 22-Dec. 30 at the museum, 7 Congress Square, Portland.