A compound that was built by the watercolor artist Hilton Leech in 1940 and bought by ceramic artist Frank Colson and his wife, Diana, in 1963 has come onto the market for $1,197,000 through Jorge Zea of Blue Lighthouse Realty.
The unique trio of structures — house, studio and detached garage — is on an oversized lot that is private to the street because of mature foliage and old-growth trees. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places.
The parcel is being sold by Diana Colson. Her husband died in August of last year, and, after 53 years of living on the land, she is ready to downsize to a much smaller and more manageable house. She and her two sons, Kevin and Sean, who grew up in the house and made art with their famous father in his studio, have been clearing the property of kilns and organizing boxes of tiles and lost wax carvings in preparation for leaving.
Colson’s studio and the house have been featured on several house tours during the years and Colson’s work in ceramic and bronze can be seen in every room of this house in the 1600 block of Hillview Street. Frank Colson is recognized globally for works in sculptural bronze, clay and fabric forms. He is perhaps most recognized for his unique masks and horses.
“The studio was always Frank’s world,” said Diana Colson. “I don’t need it. I just need an office and a computer for what I do, so I’m hoping to downsize to a small house in the South Gate or Gulf Gate part of town. We’ve been here for more than 50 years and we raised our two sons here, and over the years, we’ve crafted what I think is a special way of living, fully integrated to nature and fully integrated with Frank’s art.”
Diana Colson is a retired school teacher who was named a Teacher of the Year in Sarasota County. She taught music at Southside School, among other elementary schools in the county, and retired in 1997.
But, Diana Colson is known nationally as an award-winning filmmaker of youth documentaries that teach about other cultures, some of which featured her sons as actors. She has also collaborated on three operas and is currently remaking one of the youth operas, “Cornelius Coyote,” into an animated feature film.
She is also the author of the novel “Triple Destiny.”
Diana and Frank Colson met while she was a student at Scripps College in Southern California, and he was a student at Claremont, the men’s college across the street. They married, and, in 1960, Colson was directing educational television at Florida State University when came to Sarasota with Dick Fallon, head of the drama department, to look at the Asolo Theatre.
Colson knew he had found the place where he wanted to live and work. The couple moved to Bradenton in 1962, where the Manatee Art League offered him a ceramics studio, and, a year later, they bought the house and studio of watercolorist Hilton Leech on Hillview Street, renaming Leech’s Amagansett Art School the “Colson Studio.”
“Hilton built the house himself using mostly heart pine for walls, ceilings, cabinets, doors and floors,” said Diana Colson. “When we tried to get a bank loan, we had real difficulty because banks didn’t want to do a mortgage on an all-wood house. They preferred concrete. In the end, Hilton took some of the purchase price in artwork from Frank. Hilton went on to build a round house, which became locally famous and is still standing.”
Diana remembers that the Hillview house was originally about 700 square feet when Leech built it. He added to it In 1952.
“We settled in here, raised our sons, and, over the years, did two renovations, one in 1980 and another in 2006,” said Diana. “Mostly, we updated — there was no dishwasher originally — and I designed a lot of built-ins for storage and organizing. I even included a secret trap door in the floor outside our bedroom. One or two times, a family cat got caught in there, but with no serious outcome.”
They doubled the size of the kitchen and added a half-bath that Diana was cleverly able to design and tuck under the staircase, which they had relocated for better traffic flow. The master bedroom features a built-in bed with pull-out drawers underneath for additional storage. Today the house has four bedrooms, two full baths and a half bath. Living space is about 3,500 square feet.
The Colsons partially enclosed some outdoor spaces, making the integration between indoor and outdoor living practically seamless. There are porches, decks, a lanai and a screened outdoor entertainment area. In the kitchen, Frank Colson crafted a backsplash of fanciful fish tiles, and, for drawer pulls and cabinet knobs, he made tiny bronze frogs. On the stair treads leading to the second-story boys’ bedrooms, he installed vividly colored original butterfly tiles. They seem to fly upwards as one ascends the stairs.
The detached art studio on the property is historic. It’s one half of a circa-1925 military barracks. “Hilton had it brought here from the Venice airfield in 1947, and it became his art studio and then ours,” said Diana. “It’s huge, 21 by 42 feet, and it’s plumbed for a bathroom and kitchen sink. It could easily be refitted as a guest cottage, or buyers could use it as a studio for making art. The detached garage is where the laundry room is located, plus there’s plenty of storage room there, besides room for a car. And the back yard could easily accommodate a swimming pool.”
As Diana Colson begins to clear the house, she’s made the determination to sell many of the paintings, fiber art and sculptures that are displayed throughout the rooms of this historic home. She says there’s too much to take with her, and she would like the artworks to be dispersed among people who have admired Frank Colson’s work for years and would now like to own a piece from the house he lived in.