Westport has been home to many famous residents. None was more famous than the Fraser family — well, that’s what James Earle Fraser’s 1953 obituary said, anyway.
He was a sculptor who designed the buffalo nickel, the “End of the Trail” sculpture of a Native American slumped over a tired horse, and the Theodore Roosevelt statue at the Museum of Natural History.
His wife Laura Gardin Fraser was also an internationally known sculptor. She designed the Congressional Medal of Honor, featuring Charles Lindbergh’s likeness.
The couple knew everyone who was anyone, local historian Mary Gai says. Among the guests who visited were the wives of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, Edsel Ford, Harvey Firestone, Averell Harriman, and George Patton’s family.
The Frasers married in 1913, and moved to Westport the next year. They built a large studio off North Avenue, north of Coleytown Road, where they worked for decades.
They bought surrounding property to keep their neighborhood quiet. They then sold some land to other sculptors and painters — including former student Lila Wheelock Howard and her illustrator husband Oscar, and Kerr Eby, whose etchings are still sold today.
The Frasers’ foresight — and hospitality — helped make Westport a true 20th-century “artists’ colony.”
The Frasers did not just sit home and create art, of course. They helped found the Fairfield County Hunt Club, Westport Beach Club (now Longshore), and Shorehaven Country Club.
But the studio was the center of their lives. It featured stone walls, large doors and windows, and a dark slate roof. Legend has it that the Frasers had bought a villa in Italy, had it disassembled and brought to Westport — along with Italian masons — where it was rebuilt, stone by stone.
Sculptures created inside — including some of the most famous works — were rolled out through 2-story swinging doors.
The Frasers’ studio was later bought by Ralph and Betty Alswang. He was a noted theater designer — and, decades after the Frasers, another key contributor to Westport’s artistic life.
The studio — at what is now 2 Fraser Lane — is on the market. Enlarged over the years to 5,650 square feet (and 5 bedrooms), it’s been renovated inside. But the exterior looks much as it must have a century ago.
Several homes with long artistic histories have recently met the wrecking ball. Will this be preserved — or, like James Earle Fraser’s buffalo nickel, become just a faded artifact of an earlier time?