Opening the door to Winslow Homer's home and art

(CBS News) Winslow Homer was one of America's best-known landscape painters in the 19th century. And to this day, his work is in a class of its own. With Rita Braver, we pay a visit to his studio:

If any painter has captured the rugged beauty of Maine's coast - the thrilling play of water and light against rock - it has to be Winslow Homer.

"He's a realist and he's a naturalist," said Mark Bessire, director of the Portland Museum of Art. "He's interested in telling you about the power of nature in a single wave. He wants you to feel the spray, be in that painting itself."

And though many of us are familiar with what Winslow Homer painted, until now, we haven't had a chance to see WHERE he painted many of his masterworks: his studio on Prout's Neck, just a few miles outside Portland, where he lived and worked from 1893 until his death more than a quarter century later.

"He could walk down to the cliff walk, see what he needed to see, sketch, come back up here and then paint in the studio," said Bessire.

The museum has just finished a five-year, $2.8 million renovation of the studio - now open to the public for the first time. It was purchased directly from Homer's great-grand nephew.

"The family never wanted to adjust it more than it would to move away from the feeling of Winslow Homer," said Bessire.

The painting room of Winslow Homer's studio in Prout's Neck, Me.
Trent Bell/Portland Museum of Art

Homer etched his name into one of the windows. His pipe is here, along with a sign he posted outside the house that helps explain his reputation as a character and a curmudgeon. Bessire said, "Basically it's code: Don't bother me. Don't come in. I don't want to talk to you."

Winslow Homer was born in Boston in 1836. His father was a businessman, his mother a watercolorist who painted plates that hang in the studio.

Homer got his start as a combat artist, working for Harper's Weekly during the Civil War. One of his first paintings, "Sharpshooter," was originally an etching that he turned into a painting.

Before he settled in Maine, Homer lived and worked in New York, and studied in Europe, too, but his work was always distinctly American.