Hear the waves crash. Breathe the air. See the coast.

Winslow Homer's studio

An empty, open fireplace below with deer antlers hanging on the wall above.

​​Influential 19th century artist Winslow Homer lived and worked in a studio in Prouts Neck, Maine. The studio and coastal walks around it are as intensely atmospheric as the art it inspired.

Recently, Portland Museum of Art transformed the space, adding elements to give a feeling of a working studio. As part of this reimagining, Art Processors was commissioned to create a soundscape so subtle and authentic that visitors would feel as if Homer was almost there in the room beside them.

The historic home reopens in Spring 2022 when the experience will go live to the public. 
 


Challenge

The team leading the project at the museum garnered feedback from hundreds of previous visitors and people planning to make the trip. Amy Freesun, Associate Educator for Interpretation at Portland Museum of Art, found that visitors didn’t want to be overloaded with information about Homer but instead wanted a personalised experience. She says, “We wanted to help people slow down, explore, wonder, and have an almost meditative experience. What is incredible about this space is its sheer beauty and the feeling you get knowing that you are where the artist spent a lot of time, quietly observing. He lived there and worked there and we wanted to bring that to life for people in a visceral way.

Our challenge was to stimulate people's imagination and do so authentically. The entire space was being reimagined to be more like it would have been when Homer lived and worked there, and the museum wanted the sound to reflect this too.

We also needed to address the myths that exist around this great artist. What was he actually like? And it was important we considered the special scenery outside the studio, which is mostly unchanged since Homer’s time.

The exterior of Winslow Homer's studio.

Approach

Collaboration is at the heart of every project we take on at Art Processors. Working with the museum team, we were hands on and on site throughout the project—brainstorming, researching, recording, listening, testing and perfecting. Together, we got to really know the studio and how Homer would have used it so that we could record authentic “foley” sounds—recreating and recording his everyday life to help others better imagine it when they were in his space.

Inside Winslow Homer's studio, a magazine rack sits to the left with hanging newspapers and to the right a table with images.

The first time we heard the whole soundscape as a team, it was really wonderful. We're excited to see what it's like when there's a larger group and to help the guides make sure that those real moments of silence are preserved.

– Amy Freesun
   Associate Educator for Interpretation, Portland Museum of Art

We gathered historically accurate art supplies—paint brushes, pallets, watercolors, papers, etching tools—to create each sound as accurately as possible.

A woman holding a paint brush with paint suppliers all over a table.

Solution

As the studio does not not have WiFi and isn’t always staffed, reliability is key so we kept the sound system simple. Digital repeaters with no moving parts are connected directly to compact, high-performance speakers mounted throughout the space. They play sounds stored on a trusty Flash Disk. Eight channels of audio are set up in five different locations: the window; the fireplace, the easel, where Homer wrote on the walls, and in a hallway.

The first layer of the soundscape uses details from Homer’s original letters to bring to life parts of the building—a window, a fireplace, the hallway, the studio itself. Sounds include a rotisserie, drawing, painting, writing on the walls, whistling music and opening a bottle of wine. Everything is subtle. For example, in our research we discovered Homer would paint and then step back to check for accuracy, so when recording, we stood at the painting easel, moved in and away so visitors hear footsteps and sense him working. 

A deeper layer of sound creates a sense of the outdoor space—waves, birds, a thunderstorm as you peer out of the window, a church being constructed nearby, a passing horse carriage. These change throughout the day, from morning bird song to night crickets. We also made sure outdoor recordings didn’t give away modern sounds like airplanes and cars.

View of the ocean and parkland with the Portland Museum of Art building to the left