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Connecting a Community Through Art

Located on the eastern side of town and anchored by the 125-year-old Brooklawn Country Club, Brooklawn Park counts among its early residents businessman (and accidental inventor) William Russell Frisbie (1848-1903) and local titans of finance and industry Horace Merwin (1888-1948) and Webster Walker (1895-1966).

In addition to its “Who’s Who” of turn-of-the-century personalities, one of the most intriguing elements of Brooklawn Park is its architecture. A 1923 article in the Bridgeport Telegram quotes a local minister, Rev. E. J. Craft, who remarked (rather hyperbolically) that “the large group of suburban homes in this territory…[is] ‘unexcelled anywhere in the United States.’ ” A more recent 2002 article in the New York Times explains that the combination of different architectural styles is what makes Brooklawn Park unique—“Whereas one Georgian Revival was known for its formal English gardens, another boasted an octagonal sunroom. Several residents opted for dour Tudors, and one indulged a fancy for a Mediterranean-style colonial complete with red tile roof.” This connection between architecture, history, and community—combined with the passion of several local residents—has culminated in Brooklawn Park, a collaborative photography and history exhibit at the Fairfield Museum that honors and reflects upon the past, present, and future of this part of town.

In the fall of 2018, renowned architectural photographer Ari Burling and his wife and creative partner, Erika, began discussing the possibility of a local historical photography project. A few weeks later, a chance meeting during an afternoon walk introduced Erika to Brooklawn Park resident Carolyn Trabuco. Though Carolyn and her husband, Mauricio, made Fairfield their home in 1998, they and their sons had moved to the area only ten months earlier. Erika and Carolyn’s initial conversation generated immediate excitement about a project that would focus on the homes and history of the neighborhood.

Once these new friends came together, their project took off quickly. Carolyn reached out to her neighbors over email to introduce her family and make a request: “Would you allow an architectural photographer to take a photo of your home?” The neighborhood responded positively, so as Ari photographed houses, Erika and Carolyn scoured the internet and interviewed Brooklawn Park’s residents. Carolyn remembers being astonished by the depth of her neighbors’ interest: “People shared stories of found receipts and abandoned equipment…I was so excited that I lost a good forty hours to searching through newspapers.com for century-old references to our homes and neighborhood history!” After visiting the Bridgeport library, the Town Hall, and the Fairfield Museum to collect more information, the team realized that that a book about Brooklawn Park wouldn’t be enough: they had to get their project in front of a wider audience.

Soon after the Brooklawn Country Club agreed to host the project’s opening exhibition this past April, Erika approached Laurie Lamarre, Curator of Exhibitions at the Fairfield Museum. From the beginning, Lamarre was excited about the project which she believes fits perfectly with the Museum’s mission “to use history to strengthen community and shape its future.” Lamarre sees it as a true partnership between the museum and members of the larger Fairfield community. “Ari’s photographs document Brooklawn’s rich architectural history,” she explains. “The research that was completed in the museum’s collections shares the often hidden stories of industrialists and leaders—and, supporting them, the everyday worker—who shaped our community history. It is important to understand these connections and how we work together as individuals, neighborhoods, and economic partners in the region.”

Indeed, themes of partnership and community illuminate every conversation about the exhibition. Erika Burling views the exhibit as an opportunity to see “how clear it is that all of us are so connected.” Carolyn Trabuco agrees, adding that this project has deepened her love of, and appreciation for, her neighborhood. “Our neighbors here are ethnically and socially diverse. They host an annual Diwali party, a Halloween party, and a Boxing Day party. We have had a neighborhood picnic and an Oktoberfest complete with a pizza truck. People here are really doing things. It’s fun!”

For photographer Ari Burling, this is about more than a collection of photographs—and Brooklawn Park itself is about far more than its architecture. It is about the living, breathing, changing history of Fairfield—and about the ways in which past and present can connect to shape the future. Ari’s hope is that it will be seen “as a body of work that celebrates this particular place and its story—one that began hundreds of years ago, has many more chapters to come, and whose cast of characters is inclusive. We are all neighbors. We are all writing our stories into some specific volume. Our stories should be shared and not forgotten.”

Ari, Erika, and Carolyn’s next project will focus on Greenfield Hill.

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