When I was in high school and college, I spent my summers working in various capacities at the Black Point Inn on Prouts Neck. I started as a dishwasher, graduated the following year to the grounds crew, and even did a stint as a night watchman (a job that mostly involved chasing raccoons out of the hallways and local kids out of the pool) before I finally found my true calling as a bellman. I didn’t think much of the position at the time, but, in retrospect, I realize that working the bell desk was a pretty good gig. Yes, I had to carry some massive pieces of luggage up three flights of stairs, but I also got to park some insanely expensive sports cars, and the tips were phenomenal. One of my duties was driving the inn’s black London taxicab, “Wally,” back and forth to the airport when someone needed a ride. Another involved leading guests along the treacherous cliff walk to the Winslow Homer studio around the corner. There, I would wait outside while the late Doris Homer, who had once been married to the famous painter’s nephew, conducted an informal tour of the premises, which had been much altered since the artist’s days.
I remember sitting on the rocks below the studio one morning — the same gray rocks Winslow Homer had immortalized in paintings like Weatherbeaten and Northeaster — while the fog rolled in over the waves. Homer’s presence seemed almost palpable in the ethereal mist, as if his ghost resided there and was returning home to chase those blabbering trespassers from his bedroom. (The artist hated interlopers so much, he posted a hand-lettered sign outside the building saying, “Snakes. Snakes. Mice.”) There’s something about the rugged beauty of Prouts Neck that makes people reluctant to share it with outsiders.
Fortunately for us, Homer’s orneriness didn’t extend to his artwork. For a century now, people around the world have been able to visit the neck virtually through his majestic seascapes. I am pleased to report that, starting this month, you will have an opportunity to look through Homer’s window in person. As Deborah Weisgall writes in "Homer's Window," the Portland Museum of Art has restored the studio to a state resembling the way it looked when the artist was in residence — and added a few high-tech touches, too. The museum is offering a limited number of tours of the property each day (expect the waiting list to be long). Having been given a sneak peek myself, I would advise signing up for one of these van trips as soon as you can. It’s not every day you get to see the world through the eyes of a genius.
As I stood on Homer’s cantilevered deck recently, looking out across the bold Atlantic, I thought of myself as a dumb kid sitting on the rocks below, ungrateful for the gift of such a view. All I could feel now was a sense of awe and wonder at the crashing surf that still sounded, very faintly to my adult ears, like Homer’s spirit telling me to get the hell off his porch.