In Our Own Time

Modern Architecture in Litchfield 1949-1970

A surprising new exhibition exploring the hidden legacy of Modernism in Litchfield, Connecticut, opened at the Litchfield History Museum on April 11, 2003, and ran through November 30, 2003.

“In Our Own Time: Modern Architecture in Litchfield 1949-1970” focused on a small but extraordinary movement of modern design that involved many of the world's foremost architects of the period. Among the leading modernists to work in the area were Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, John Johansen, Eliot Noyes, Edward Durell Stone, and Edward Larrabee Barnes-all drawn to Litchfield by a group of local patrons who embraced the Modern design philosophy that was emerging in America after World War II.

“Litchfield's Modern movement is notable in that it occurred at all, let alone in a town that so many people consider to be Connecticut's quintessential Colonial village,” says Catherine Keene Fields, director of the Litchfield Historical Society. “This is an extremely important part of local history because the architects are so highly regarded,” adds Ms. Fields. "It is also an exciting story to tell because all of the buildings still stand, and because so many of the original clients are still here to share their memories. That personal aspect is part of what makes this project unique."

The four-part exhibition told the story of how a single 1949 visit by a Litchfield couple to Marcel Breuer's Demonstration House at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City led to a lifelong friendship with Breuer. The ensuing enthusiasm for Modern design that spread among area residents created a climate for some twenty Modernist commissions in Litchfield and the nearby towns of Milton, Morris, Lakeville, and Torrington, Connecticut. The buildings include private houses, school facilities, a library addition, and an office and factory complex.

Designed by the award-winning architect Craig Konyk of Brooklyn, New York, the exhibition featured models, contemporary publications, and original drawings and images, including several photographs from private collections being shown for the first time. Paintings and graphics by Alexander Calder and Ivan Chermayeff will also be highlighted. These artists were closely involved with the Litchfield Modernist circle, which involved a fascinating web of friendships and professional connections.

The exhibit also incorporated a small library of books, magazines, and related materials on Modernism that permitted visitors to explore exhibit topics in depth. These items are now available for research in the Society's Helga J. Ingraham Memorial Library.

Related programming included gallery talks, children's programs, and a day-long symposium on Modern design.

This project was funded through a generous grant from the Cultural Heritage Development Fund of the Connecticut Humanities Council and support from the Torrington Area Foundation.