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Ralph Hubbard Norton

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Ralph Hubbard
Norton

Ralph Hubbard Norton (1875–1953) was born in Chicago to an affluent family and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1900. He married Elizabeth Calhoun (1881-1947) of Montgomery, Alabama, who also graduated from the university and was a great grand-niece of the statesman, John C. Calhoun. In 1940, after Ralph Norton retired as president of Acme Steel Company and their children were grown, he and his wife moved to West Palm Beach.

The Nortons brought with them a sizable art collection, which they had begun gathering prior to World War I, and which they wanted to share with the public. In 1941 they opened the Norton Gallery and School of Art, later renamed the Norton Museum of Art, in West Palm Beach. Architect Marion Sims Wyeth of the firm of Wyeth, King & Johnson designed the original building in the late-Art Deco/Neo-Classic style. Sculptor Paul Manship was commissioned to create a frieze across the façade of the building, as well as two bronze sculptures outside.

Inside, the Nortons’ collection of about 400 works reflected their appreciation of an eclectic mix of styles, periods, and media from American, European, and Chinese artists. Pioneer Hall provided an auditorium to expand the potential scope of the museum into other forms of artistic expression. The Nortons’ endowment of their museum was said to be the first time in the United States that such a collection had been provided for in this way, and it inspired others to follow suit in establishing other art venues.

It was said of Ralph Norton by his peers that he held a “deep and sincere humility before the creative spirit in all its forms.”

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