Park City Museum exhibit examines barbecues, chemicals and racism
“Patios, Pools and the Invention of the American Backyard”
Through Nov. 20
Park City Museum, 528 Main St.
Summer is a time for backyard barbecues, lawn games and patio parties.
The Park City Museum’s new exhibit, “Patios, Pools and the Invention of the American Backyard,” on display at the Tozier Gallery through Nov. 20, examines the origins of these traditions, said Courtney Titus, the museum’s curator of collections.
The exhibit, collected by the Smithsonian Gardens Archives of American Gardens, and presented by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, is composed of colorful photos and architectural renderings of homes, according to Titus.
“It has a lot of incredible graphics from the mid-century, and focuses on the invention of the American backyard, which came about post-World War II,” she said.
The G.I. Bill and the returning service members it benefited spurred the development of the backyard, Titus said.
“They returned from the war and wanted to start families, which started the Baby Boom,” she said. “These families sought places to live, so there was a demand for new housing.”
Developers began designing and building homes in communities that are now known as suburbs.
“The new home designs also transitioned from having a nice shady front porch, which was popular in the late 1900s, to bigger backyards,” she said.
Front porches had served as a bridge between the privacy of homes to communities, Titus said.
“You could interact with families as well as neighbors who passed by on the street, but these new homes took away front porches, and gave these families patios and backyards, where they and invited guests could relax and forget their worries.”
New homeowners could shape the backyard space however they wanted, Titus said.
“They could buy patio furniture, barbecue grills and swimming pools,” she said.
The suburbs took off between 1946 and 1956, according to Titus.
“More Americans purchased homes during that time than in the previous 150 years,” she said. “That shows how big the movement was.”
Swimming pool construction also flourished.
“There were 7,000 residential pools in 1952, and by 1958, the number of pools jumped to 37,400,” Titus said.
The side effects of the ways homeowners maintained their properties weren’t well known at the time, though. The exhibit contains posters that declare “DDT is good for me” and depict photos of children playing in a cloud of the pesticide. The promotion of the product contrasts with the findings of activists such as Rachel Green, who wrote the book “Silent Spring,” started warning people about the deadly effects chemicals such as DDT had on wildlife, domestic and agricultural animals and people. The U.S. government banned DDT in 1972.
The exhibit also touches on segregation, which suburban development exacerbated with the phenomenon of “white flight” from cities.
“One of the most famous examples is Levittown, New York,” Titus said.
The community, founded and designed by entrepreneur Abraham Levitt, was exclusively built for white residents, and even the leases included the stipulation that “the tenant agrees not to permit the premises to be sued or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.”
“The exhibit features a powerful photo of a black man on a tractor working on the suburbs he would not be allowed to live in,” Titus said.
While “Patios, Pools and the Invention of the American Backyard” didn’t come with an interactive element, Park City Museum Education Director Diane Knispel introduced a variety of yard games to the exhibit.
“Diane found some toys and games like ring toss, jump rope and hopscotch that are ideal for the backyard, and put them up in the gallery,” Titus said.
Knispel also scheduled a free panel discussion about the backyard culture.
The discussion will start at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10, at the Park City Museum Education and Collections Center, located at 2079 Sidewinder Drive.
The panel, moderated by Steve Reggentin, will include local residents Steve Leatham, Jim Weaver, Don Williams, Phil Jones, Jim Tedford and Karri Dell Hays, according to Titus.
“It’s interesting how much the backyard culture still thrives today,” Titus said. “We still love a good barbecue, especially with the Fourth of July coming up, and we all know that one kid who had a swimming pool.”
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