Pedro E. Guerrero: The Photographer of Mid-Century New Canaan is on view through Dec. 21 at the New Canaan Historical Society. The exhibition includes Guerrero’s black and white photos, many depicting the architecture for which the town is famous, and coincides with the Society’s much anticipated Modern House Day Tour on Oct. 20. A second gallery is devoted to the life of Guerrero and his family in New Canaan during some of the town’s most tumultuous — and interesting — years.
Guerrero is internationally known for his work with the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the sculptors Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson, as well as his photographs of modernist houses for the popular shelter magazines of the “Mad Men” era. Born in 1917 in segregated Arizona to parents of Mexican descent, he captured the attention of Wright at age 22. They formed a personal and professional bond that has been described as that of father and son. Like many of the architects Guerrero documented, he moved to then-rural New Canaan just after service in World War II and began building his own modernist house. He became an active member of the community and a strong voice against the Vietnam war, making national headlines as “The Dove on the Draft Board.” This stance landed him on magazine blacklists, ruining his freelance career. But along with hate mail and a dead bird stuffed in his mailbox came time to spend documenting artists he admired. Guerrero died in Arizona in 2012.
The photographic exhibit, organized by the Society with Edward Cella Art + Architecture of Los Angeles, the gallery which represents his estate, will display timeless images of New Canaan’s architectural heyday, including houses by Marcel Breuer and John Black Lee, and portraits of Calder’s home and studio. The second gallery mines Guerrero family archives and attics, featuring images of the pioneer clan in 19th-century Arizona, vintage cameras, and Guerrero’s own artwork. Other memorabilia depict a New Canaan that was at once pastoral and contentious – a battleground between hawks and doves, as illustrated by lively excerpts from the opinions column of the local newspaper.