Hot on the heels of 157 Easton Road — the former home of concert violinist Leopold Godowsky Jr. and his wife Frankie Gershwin (George and Ira’s younger sister) — another Westport property with a wonderful arts pedigree is on the market.
60 Roseville Road is listed on a state database of homes owned by famed children’s book authors and illustrators. From 1946 until his death 30 years later, Hardie Gramatky lived — and worked — there.
His name still resonates. In 2006, Andrew Wyeth called him one of America’s 20 greatest watercolorists. Decades after he wrote and illustrated Little Toot, it remains a beloved classic.
The other day, Linda Gramatky Smith — the artist’s daughter — and her husband Ken sat in the light-filled home. They’ve lived there since 1993. Now they’re moving to New Jersey, to be closer to their daughter. They hope they can sell it to someone who cherishes its creative bones.
The house has had only one other owner. Joe Chapin — a famed New York art director — built it as a weekend place. When he died, his wife Henrietta moved to Imperial Avenue (where she lived with Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpies comic characters).
The Roseville Road house was rented out. In the mid-1940s, tenants wanted to buy but could not afford the asking price. So they refused to let potential purchasers inside.
Gramatky peered into the windows. He loved it — and bought it for $22,000.
Moving day was set for December 26, 1946. A huge snowstorm roared in a few days earlier. The tenants — still enraged at not being able to buy — turned off the heat, and opened the windows.
Realtor Muriel Baldwin drove by, and saw what was happening. “She saved the house,” Linda says gratefully 70 years later.
Gramatky quickly became part of Westport’s lively arts community. With Stevan Dohanos, he started a watercolor group. Howard Munce, Ward Brackett and others met monthly to chat, critique each other’s work, and socialize.
Gramatky created a “Little Toot” poster for the Westport Red Cross. He drew caricatures at the Yankee Doodle Fair, was a frequent elementary school classroom guest, and played in the popular fundraising “artists vs. writers” basketball games.
Gramatky’s wife, Dorothea Cooke, was a noted artist herself. She drew covers for magazines like Jack and Jill, and lived in the home until her death in 2001.
“They adopted the community. And the community adopted them,” Linda says.
His home inspired his work. Gramatky could see Long Island Sound from an upstairs window, and painted that scene. Another work shows a boy and his beagle walking down Roseville Road — then just a country lane.
He painted the 1867 house across the street — owned for years by the Fonetlieu family — from many angles. Linda hung some of those works in her living room, next to windows with a view of that home.
The Gramatky house was a neighborhood gathering place. Kids played in the big yard, and sledded in winter. If they wandered into his studio, the artist let them paint. (Dorothea baked cookies for them.)
When Gramatky was dying of cancer, he spent much of his time in the warm sun porch.
Fellow illustrator Munce said in his eulogy, “Some artists go to France for inspiration. Hardie just looked out his windows, and painted those scenes.”
Linda looks around the house that she and Ken are selling. It has a long, rich history, and holds memories.
“It’s such a livable home,” she says. “I hope someone buys it who understands what it means, and wants to preserve it.”