First Person

Winslow Homer’s Maine view

Marc Simpson, associate director of Williams College’s art history grad program, talks about the restored Homer studio on Prouts Neck that opens Tuesday.

Marc Simpson contributed to the catalog for the Winslow Homer exhibit now at the Portland Museum of Art.
Photograph of Simpson, taken at Williamstown’s Clark Art Institute, by Matthew Cavanaugh
Marc Simpson contributed to the catalog for the Winslow Homer exhibit now at the Portland Museum of Art.

When the Portland Museum of Art acquired the WINSLOW HOMER STUDIO in 2006, it organized a weekend-long discussion involving various scholars of American art as well as scholars of historical sites and education curators. They brought us together to dream, to consider how the studio could be put to use. I was lucky to be in that crowd.

I think people will MARVEL AT THE SMALLNESS OF HIS COTTAGE, the studio, and the relative confines in which he lived physically, but also marvel at the emotional and mental space that being in the space allowed.

His brother Arthur had his honeymoon ON PROUTS NECK IN 1875. The Homer family joined the honeymooners and continued visits thereafter. Winslow Homer, of the same class and social network as the people of the summer community, decided to live there year-round.


I think there is always a sense of people wanting to be in touch with history. We revisit battlefields, historical homes. We want to absorb as much atmosphere as we can. In this instance, THE LIGHT, THE SEA, THE ROCKS we can experience very much as Homer experienced them.

It’s really here that his pure marine seascapes took shape. His paintings aren’t like photographs but instead have a synthesized nature, of grabbing the knowledge and experience of those rocks and sea and atmosphere at specific times of day to allow truth to be put on canvas. Those canvases now, I think, demand that we as viewers look at them with the same kind of wonder we have when we look at the sea. WE ARE CALM BEFORE THEM, we lose ourselves before them.   

Interview has been edited and condensed. — As told to Nancy Heiser