In the 1950s, Rowayton was a hotbed for children’s literature. Authors and illustrators lived in homes and cottages from Crockett Street to Bell Island, connected by a love of the sea, an appreciation for art and writing and a general esprit de corps that longtime residents remember to this day. Dozens of children’s books trace their roots to Rowayton, among them the classics Harold and the Purple Crayon and The Carrot Seed. A visit to the Rowayton Historical Society at the Pinkney House from now through the fall offers a glimpse of this heritage. “Rowayton and the Purple Crayon: Celebrating the Creative Culture of 1950s Rowayton” features work by Jim Flora, Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, all of whom lived in town, as well as by Maurice Sendak, who illustrated eight of Krauss’ books and considered Krauss and Johnson his “weekend parents,” according to the couple’s biographer.
Original manuscripts, sketches, letters, posters and journals—many on loan from University of Connecticut archives—give visitors a taste of Rowayton more than half a century ago. They’re just a small sampling of the treasures that the staffs at the Rowayton Historical Society and Rowayton Library explored.
“So many creative people lived in Rowayton over the years—movie stars, Broadway producers and whatnot. It was hard to put boundaries up [when developing the exhibit],” says Wendell Livingston, the historical society president and, as it happens, a resident of Crockett Street, which was home to the Krauss-Johnsons. “When you narrow it down to the 1950s we had some major hitters in children’s literature.”
For decades, writers, illustrators, publishers and editors made their way to Rowayton from New York City each summer, where Flora, the Krauss-Johnsons, and many others in children’s publishing lived year-round. Donna Gauthier grew up on Crockett Street in the 1950s. As a child she played with the daughter of children’s author Phyllis Rowand Wallace. She also lived near printmaker Gabor Peterdi and illustrators Leona Pierce and Antonio Frasconi. Says Gauthier, “Perhaps they were drawn to the beach, the vistas and the camaraderie of others.”