Smithsonian exhibit on mid-century backyards arrives in Fairfield

Photo of Sarajane Sullivan

The Fairfield Museum and History Center welcomes a new exhibit from the Smithsonian collection all about the invention of the backyard and its evolution since the 1950s. 

“Patios, Pools, and the Invention of the American Backyard” is a traveling exhibit that explores “the mid-century backyard from the rise of the suburbs and tract houses, to the beauty of postwar garden design, and the birth of the environmental movement,” according to the museum’s website. 

“It feels very relevant to the Fairfield area in terms of the communities that live here. And it’s just kind of a fun way into looking at something that so ubiquitous, that you don't really think about how it came about,” said Chelsea Garth, curator of the Fairfield Museum and History Center.

The exhibit features vintage photographs, historic drawings and period advertisements that give a first-hand look at the creation of the concept of the backyard. 

“We've got everything from gardens, backyard play, postwar house building and the development of suburbia to prefab houses, and then barbecues and modern design in particular comes up quite a bit,” Garth said.

Garth said there are parts of the exhibit that opened her eyes to concepts in history she hadn’t previously thought of, like the transition away from the front porch being a home's primary outdoor space.

“Whereas a lot of older houses would have had porches — which would have been that space you're occupying in the outdoors — there’s the idea of moving from the front of your house and the front-facing component of your...neighborhood and community to the more private space in the backyard,” Garth said.

The exhibit is on display through Dec. 20 at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, 370 Beach Road, Fairfield. Admission for Museum Members is free, non-member adults are $5, students and seniors $3, and kids under 5 are free. For more information, visit Fairfieldhistory.org.