As one of the most sought-after architectural photographers of the 1950s, Pedro E. Guerrero had an eye that most shutterbugs only dream of.
Perhaps known best for his closeness with Frank Lloyd Wright, which helped him get unprecedented access to the artist’s work, Guerrero also worked with notable artists such as Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.
A new exhibit of the photographer’s work is on display at the New Canaan Historical Society, showcasing many of the photographs that he took in the area. Pedro E. Guerrero: The Photographer of Mid-Century New Canaan includes 35 never-before-seen black-and-white photos as well as memorabilia from throughout Guerrero’s life.
Guerrero moved to New Canaan just after his service in World War II and built his own modernist house. He was known as an active member of the community and a strong voice against the Vietnam War, making national headlines as “The Dove on the Draft Board.”
Nancy Geary, executive director of the New Canaan Historical Society, said many of the photos on display depict architecture from New Canaan, including the homes of noted residents Marcel Breuer and John Black Lee, and paint a good picture of Guerrero’s career.
“His photography is huge because he was Frank Lloyd Wright’s official photographer and they had a relationship from the time Pedro was 22,” she said. “Then there’s his involvement with the town of New Canaan. His service on the Connecticut draft board and some of his more controversial aspects are important in terms of our history and American history.”
Among the photographs are protests in front of local haunts, as well as interiors and exteriors of homes over a 15-year period. There are also impromptu photos of the photographer himself and shots he took of his family in their time in the area. One photograph depicts Guerrero with his camera and another shows him as an older man, tipping his hat from the Glass House.
“I think it’s nice to have someone who was so politically active, at a time when historically now, politics is so much in the news every day,” Geary said. “I think seeing him speaking out against things that people were very critical of him doing is kind of a nice reflection.”
The exhibit coincides with the Modern House Day Tour, which takes place throughout New Canaan on Oct. 20.
“Since 1951, the historical society has had a biannual, modern house day tour and we had a new dedicated art space (The Bishop Gallery) that was renovated in June, and we hadn’t had an exhibit in it yet, so we thought this would be a great thing to be our inaugural exhibit as it also ties into the tour,” Geary said. “We reached out to the Guerrero family and they were all excited.”
There is also a second gallery devoted to the life of Guerrero and his family in New Canaan during some of the town’s most tumultuous years. On display will be images of the pioneer clan in 19th-Century Arizona, some of Guerrero’s own artwork, artifacts from his life and vintage cameras from his collection.
“This seemed like a good fit for us, and interesting, and from my point of view, I liked the idea that it was going to be both about his life in New Canaan and also his work with mid-century modern architecture,” Geary said. “Guerrero has three children — Ben, Susan and Barbara and they are all involved in the show, and his grandson Alexander (who lives locally) and granddaughter Hannah are also involved.”
The downstairs gallery will also include everything from his blue jean jacket to the chair from his living room to a replica of a crazy mailbox that he had painted. It was curated by Guerrero’s grandson and is designed to give a taste of who this man was while living in New Canaan.
On Nov. 4 at 5 p.m., his children and grandchildren will be part of a panel, followed by a catered Mexican dinner.
The exhibit was organized with the help of Edward Cella Art + Architecture of Los Angeles, the gallery which has represented his estate since he died in 2012.
For more information, visit nchistory.org.