Fairfield Beach painting captures what was and what is
FAIRFIELD — The painting hanging in Fairfield Probate Court is only a few months old, but it was nearly a century in the making.
The picture — the handiwork of Bill Lee, 95, of Trumbull — depicts a group of people enjoying a beautiful summer’s day in front of a row of cottages on a section of Fairfield Beach, circa the 1920s.
There are men playing horseshoes, friends and families congregating along the seawall and a gaggle of folks taking in the nice weather under an umbrella on the sand.
“Fairfield Beach at that particular time was really developing into what it is now,” Lee said.
The photo was turned into a popular postcard, and it has always held an appeal for Lee, an accomplished artist whose work hangs in buildings throughout Fairfield and surrounding towns. He said the area depicted in the photo was developed by four separate real estate owners, and comprised what were known as “courts.” Each court was named for its owner and contained cottages rented to families for the summer.
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Lee said his family rented a cottage at Thorpe Court in the mid-1920s. He still has fond memories of that time, which go beneath the surface of what is depicted in the photo. For instance, Lee said, the horseshoe players in the picture look like a group of affable gents just having fun at the beach. They were really playing for money — a practice Lee said wasn’t legal at the time.
What has really stuck with Lee is that a lot of the cottages that were there when he was a boy are still around. Most of them are no longer part of “courts” and have changed ownership, but the houses are there.
“All these years, and they have survived,” he said.
That longevity gets more meaningful to the nonagenarian with every year.
“I’m still around, too,” he said.
A few months ago, he decided to paint his version of the photo, adding his own touches. For instance, the pair of bathing-suit-clad young walking along the beach in Lee’s work aren’t in the original photo, and are based on a pair of twins he once knew.
The painting now hangs in the probate court building, which is home to several other of Lee’s works. But this one stands out, said Kate Maxham, staff attorney at the court.
“Everybody comments on it,” she said. “It’s really a beautiful painting. Anybody who spent any time at the beach recognize that area.”
Indeed, Maxham’s mother’s uncle, John McGarry, owned McGarry Court. Maxham said the horseshoe contest in the picture was actually between residents of McGarry Court, and Thorpe Court, where Lee’s family lived.
The painting is a natural fit for the probate building, Maxham said.
“We are the keeper of records,” she said. “All of us here love history. This is a little piece of history.”