Maine has to be the prettiest, loveliest, most benevolent place on earth. Every direction you look is a picture postcard. Impeccably kept lawns around such imposing houses in such a setting - craggy, awe inspiring coastlines and the famous New England trees that one can imagine being a vibrant, gold and red in the Autumn, now a refreshing light green in the early summer. The green is consistently much lighter here than in the more often darker leaved Australian tree.
From Portland Museum of Art, Joan, our tour guide, took an intimately manageable six of us to Winslow Homer’s studio in Prout’s Neck, now a fairly exclusively gated community a dozen or so miles south of the the town. (Glenn Close has a house round the corner they tell us.) The studio, a carriage house (a pre-car garage I guess) Homer had renovated by local architect John Calvin Stevens in 1884, served as his work space, with an absence or two to warmer places in the ‘evil’ winters, until his death in 1910. It’s been renovated by the Museum, having purchased it from the Homer family (Winslow’s brother’s family - Winslow had no offspring) descendants in 2006. ‘Struth who wouldn’t want a studio like this? An upstairs verandah that overlooks the sea; the windows designed for him to make best use of the natural light; the exquisite smell of wood. Though he did choose to live a pretty spartan life there - slept on a wicker couch, cooked all his food at the fire place (there was no kitchen). A man of simple needs. He liked his solitude and put out signs to suggest there were snakes and mice to keep busy body intruders away while he was working. Though a fairly personable fella in other ways it seems. Liked a rum. His time here marked a development in his work, particularly his use of oils and a greater focus on the power of the sea as the dominant character in his works, rather than the sea workers - sailors, fishermen, navigators, basket menders and their families - who feature so significantly up to this point. And though this was his studio, Joan suggested that his studio really was down the front yard at the sea side. The Museum currently exhibits, among a number of other Homer works, including The Sharpshooter, his famous Weatherbeaten, painted at Prout’s Neck.
I loved it here. It’s beautiful; peaceful. What every artist deserves but needs to be stinking rich to afford.
So there you go. I’ve been to the temple. Seen his weathered old paints, the light that worked for him, the fireplace where he cooked his simple meals, the wicker couch that was his bed, the shopping lists he scribbled on the walls, where he got pissed on rum. Pretty cool.