At various (and frequently simultaneous) periods of his long life the protean Rockwell Kent was an architect, painter, illustrator, lithographer, xylographer, cartoonist, advertising artist, carpenter, dairy farmer, explorer, trade union leader and political controversialist. 'He is so multiple a person as to be multifarious,' Louis Untermeyer, the poet, once observed.
Understandably, there is only a passing reference to the famed artist's Minnesota days, which coincided with his ramblin' architect/carpenter era. During his brief stay living near Winona, spanning 1911 to 1913, Kent would build a double-mansion property known as Briarcombe Farm.
On Sunday evening, that combined eight-bedroom, six-bathroom, 8,053-square-foot estate spanning 15 acres near the Mississippi River hit the market for the first time in decades. For $750,000, you can purchase the abandoned marvel that Kent literally built with his own hands. Here's John Weiss of the Rochester Post Bulletin writing ahead of a 100-year celebration of Kent a decade ago at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum:
He directed the work, helped physically build it, did some painting, sold some vegetables and then left, never to return. In the town along the Mississippi River, the man who was to become world famous did few of his major works and left no impression on the city.
Kent actually did make an impression as he left the river town, according to this essay by Taff Roberts that accompanied the "Rockwell Kent in Winona: A Centennial Celebration" exhibit. Kent, whose socialist politics would make him a target of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, named his farewell picnic "Grand Intern: Workingman's anti-boss Convention," much to the ire of the bankers and lumber barons to whom he'd become acquainted, Roberts writes.
Today, as described by Edina Realty listing agent Jenny Cisewski, the "deteriorating" Briarcombe buildings need substantial work, but "the possibilities are endless!" Among the alluring features: a hidden library, six fireplaces, a billiard room, outrageously cool wallpaper (some peeling, some affixed), a mighty brick gazebo and, purportedly, the very first in-ground exterior pool ever constructed in Minnesota. The smaller mansion has been converted "mostly into a garage," the listing notes, though several of its living spaces still appear intact. Only cash offers will be accepted.
“It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to own a piece of Minnesota history," Cisewski tells us. "I can’t wait to see what the new buyer will do to make this home grand again”
The latest and current owners, Californian siblings Edwin Meyerson and Mildred Sorato, purchased the mansions in 1986 for the purpose of annual summertime recreation, according to Roberts. After visiting in 2012, Roberts observed that "trees have grown and no longer can the Mississippi River be seen from the house, but a good feeling permeated the house."
Roberts writes that, following Kent's "controversial picnic," the young multihyphenate offered these words on the Briarcombe Farm estate he'd soon leave behind forever:
"On those whose homes they were to be, on their children and grandchildren, on all throughout the generations will come to live there, may there have rested and forever rest, the blessing of peace."
Let's take a photo tour courtesy of Edina Realty and Betty Kline: