Snakes! Snakes! Mice!

When students ask me who they should look at for examples of greatness in watercolor, I always send them to the works of Winslow Homer. His works are so fresh and colorful. They seem at once to be complicated and spontaneous. It’s as if all the right colors landed miraculously in the right spots in a splash from heaven.But Homer’s personality wasn’t always so heavenly, especially when he was sketching.I recently read that way back in 1945, the great American illustrator, Norman Rockwell when doing research for a Thanksgiving themed Saturday Evening Post cover, took a detour from duty to visit Winslow Homer’s studio and home in Prout’s Neck, overlooking the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean. He had long wished to make a pilgrimage to see where a hero of his had worked.

Finding his way to the studio, he was greeted by Charles Homer, the artist’s nephew, who was occupying the studio at the time. Charles had lots of stories to tell and showed Rockwell a favorite artifact – a sign hand-painted by Homer that said “Snakes! Snakes! Mice!” Seems Winslow would place the sign beside paths that lead to his sketching grounds to keep away gawkers. While Charles tried to assure Rockwell that the sign was placed in humor, Rockwell’s sidekick that day, the writer, Arthur L. Guptill, had every right to be a bit skeptical. As a child himself, growing up in Maine, he had tried to watch Winslow Homer paint on this very shore and had “been driven away by vehemently shouted imprecations”.

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