ABILENE, Kan. – Americans love their backyards. Retreats for recreation, entertainment, dining, and relaxation, they combine the comfort and convenience of living rooms with the freedom of the open air. A new Smithsonian traveling exhibition, “Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the Backyard,” explores the transition from the front porch to the backyard patio, the rise of the do-it-yourself homeowner, and the use of “chemical warfare” to achieve the perfect lawn.
The exhibition will be on display in the Library Building at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home from March 21 through May 31. “We are thrilled to be the debut site of this intriguing traveling exhibit. The Eisenhower Administration was known as the eight years of peace and prosperity when the suburbs gained in popularity. Traveling exhibits curated by the Smithsonian are always popular with our visitors and we look forward to another successful showing,” states Karl Weissenbach, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library.
Through rare photographs, historic drawings and period advertisements, the exhibit explores the mid-century backyard of the 1950s from the rise of the suburbs and tract houses and the beauty of postwar garden design to the birth of the environmental movement. Drawing from the collections and research of the Smithsonian Gardens’ Archives of American Gardens, the exhibition is organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).
In the 1950s, America was a nation emerging from the shadow of World War II, searching for ways to enjoy its new found peace and prosperity. Postwar trends such as the baby boom, a growing middle class, the do-it-yourself concept and a dramatic rise in home ownership remade much of the U.S. and contributed to the development of the suburban backyard.
Companies produced an increasing number of products designed to lessen the burden of yard work. Imported and hybrid grasses, herbicides and pesticides, automated sprinkler systems, chemical sprayers and newly affordable lawn mowers began to appear in sheds and garages around the nation. Many contemporary backyards still boast the pristine lawn, low-maintenance plantings, patios, outdoor furniture, grills and play equipment that first emerged after World War II.
SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 60 years. SITES connects Americans to their cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history.
Smithsonian Gardens care for living plant, artifact and archival collections. Its Archives of American Gardens collects and makes available for research use images of and documentation relating to a wide variety of cultivated gardens throughout the United States.