"Come on in, let's see what you can do." With those words the architectural titan Frank Lloyd Wright greeted a young Pedro Guerrero.
At 93, as Guerrero looks back on a distinguished career as a photographer, he credits that moment, and man, as having made all that followed since that 1939 meeting possible.
Although Guerrero had not finished school when he met "Mr. Wright," as he always called him, Guerrero impressed the architect with his ability to capture the architect's work on film.
So began a 20 year collaboration, which led to a career that included photographing the work of sculptor Alexander Calder, artist Louise Nevelson and numerous assignments for House & Garden, Vogue, Bazaar, House Beautiful and other well-known magazines.
The photographer moved to New Canaan with his family in 1951, where they lived for the rest of the 20th century.
During that time he photographed the work of the who made this town their home and their canvas, complementing the landscape they found here with their
In 1958, as he tells it, he received a call from Wright, who was planning a visit to town to view a house under construction. He asked Guerrero to accompany him, and added a visit to Philip Johnson at his home on Ponus Ridge.
It is this visit to the , and the time he shared there with these two famous men, that Guerrero recalled for The Oral History Project.
The project, a series of films, aims to capture and preserve the recollections of those who knew Johnson, his companion David Whitney and , and is available for viewing at on Elm Street.
This film was made by students Grayson Cordes, Jared Aaronson and under the direction of their teacher, .
Although Guerrero professes modestly that he always asked, "Why me?" when marvelling at his career with Wright and all that followed, Kingsbury, who taught the Advanced Filmmaking Class at NCHS before his retirement this year, volunteered his thoughts.
Kingsbury believes that Wright immediately recognized the photographer's talent. He said he feels that Guerrero's photographs were integral to making the architect's work so well-known and appreciated.
"You made his work look better than in real life," Kingsbury said.
For those gathered at the Visitor Center on Elm Street on Tuesday morning, the photographer revisited the events of that day in 1958.
As he recalls, they did not have lunch as originally planned. They had, "nothing to eat, we just drank . . . scotch."
He characterized the relationship between the two as, "love/hate," and recalls Johnson as saying of Wright, "He's a great architect and I hate him."
Guerrero went on to say that while there was an obvious competitive spirit between them, there was also great admiration, "No one spoke more glowingly of Taliesin, (Wright's home in Wisconsin where he lived and worked), than Philip."
As the afternoon in 1958 wore on, Guerrero recalled a silent battle between the two men. Each time Wright rose to refill his glass, he quietly moved a large sculpture in the room, adjusting it to his liking. Each time he did so, Johnson would move it back to its original location, just as quietly.
As Guerrero recalls, Wright finally said to Johnson in frustration, "Philip, leave perfect symmetry to God."
In a nod to the elder architect's self-regard Guerrero added, "I say I never knew who he meant by 'God'."
Guerrero, who was accompanied at the Visitor Center screening by his daughter, Susan, who was raised in New Canaan, and by his second wife, author Dixie Legler, also recalled his time as a town resident.
"I was sort of a pain in the behind to some people in town," he said.
He was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, something which he said put him at odds with some of his fellow New Canaanites. He said it was a time of turmoil, and describes this as a town divided.
When he found himself appointed to the local draft board, The New York Times ran an article entitled, "New Canaan Split on Naming of Dove to Its Draft Board."
When it appeared, he said he lost his work with House & Garden, and it was a difficult time for his family. Although they suffered financially, and his children were subjected to criticism from their peers, his daughter volunteered that she saw it as a positive time in their lives, and a learning experience.
Looking back, Guerrero also reflected on the controversy that ensued when the town was given and its grounds in 1967.
While he remembered with delight enjoying the park, especially the Fourth of July celebration there, he said there was much discussion and disagreement at the time about how this endowment should be utilized.
As everyone voiced their opinions, suggesting tennis courts, a swimming pool, room for every activity and interest possible, there were also those who felt it should be left as open space.
Writing to the editor of the paper, and perhaps in an attempt to "bait" his fellow town citizens, he requested that space be set aside for what he called his "passion" for bear baiting.
He said he likes to think his contribution ended the discussion.