Pine Point woman: Model for a master
When Donald Googins looks at “The Fisher Girl” or “Light on the Sea,” two paintings Winslow Homer painted in the mid-1890s while he lived at Prouts Neck, he can’t help but think of his grandmother, Ida Meserve Harding.
That is because more than 100 years ago, Harding, who lived on Pine Point for most of her life, served as a model for Homer while he worked at his cottagestudio at Prouts Neck.
Despite growing up in the house next to where Harding lived and being close to her, Googins said his grandmother never really spoke of the modeling experience.
In fact, Googins said, he didn’t really hear his grandmother go into detail about the subject until 1943, when Philip Beam, a professor at Bowdoin College, interviewed her about the experience. Googins, 14 at the time, was invited to sit down and listen in on the interview. His grandmother died four years after the interview at 69 years old.
Beam’s interview with Harding was published in 1966 in “Winslow Homer at Prouts Neck.”
Harding began modeling for Homer in 1894 as he worked on “The Fisher Girl.” She was 16 at the time and one of several local models Homer hired when he began using live models.
Googins, who now lives in the house his grandmother once called home, said he is not sure how his grandmother was first hired as a model for Homer, but guesses it was because she was working in one of the many hotels that operated at Prouts Neck at the time.
“Homer loved being around the working people,” Googins said. “He didn’t care too much for the high class. He loved the working people.”
Beam wrote in the book that Homer, who moved to Prouts Neck in 1883, asked Scarborough resident Joseph Foss, who had done some chores and other favors for the artist, to help him find live models for him. According to Beam, other local models included Hattie Carter, Maude Libby, Sadie Richardson and a Mrs. Larrabee.
Harding told Beam that “he hired her for the whole month of May, paying her every day whether or not the weather allowed working.” Googins said his grandmother was paid $3 a day.
Harding told Beam that Homer was “all business while painting, very serious, and hardly speaking, although after the session he would talk at great length and tell innumerable stories.”
Beam wrote that Harding stopped posing for the painting, originally called “Girl in a Fog,” in May to prepare for her marriage to Charles Harding. She reportedly returned as a model in November of 1894 and continued to model for the artist until 1899, when her first child was born and she moved to Pine Point.
Harding also served as a model for “A Light on the Sea,” a painting Homer completed in 1897.
Googins was able to see both “A Light on the Sea” and “The Fisher Girl” last month when his children surprised him with a trip to the Portland Museum of Art Sept. 30, the 64th anniversary of his marriage to Emma Googins.
Both “A Light on the Sea,” which hangs in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C., and “The Fisher Girl,” part of Amherst College’s American Art collection, are part of “Weatherbeaten: Winslow Homer and Maine,” a special exhibition of Homer’s work. The exhibition, which includes paintings from all over the country, runs through Sunday, Dec. 30.
“When I got to the museum and saw my grandmother up there on the wall, I said to my oldest daughter, who set the whole visit up, ‘There’s your great-grandmother.’ It gave me quite a feeling,” Googins said.
After seeing the exhibit, Googins and his family took the 12-mile trip to Winslow Homer’s studio, which was recently opened for public tours after a years-long restoration effort.
“At the studio, I got that feeling back again and thought, ‘This is where she posed for Homer,’” Googins said. “It was quite an experience.”
Googins said he is glad Homer is again getting a lot of press and attention as of late, but there is another group that deserves recognition.
“Homer has had a lot of publicity over the years, but the models – all local Scarborough women – should get some recognition too because they played an important part in Homer’s art,” Googins said.
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