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Ralph Hubbard Norton

Patron, Collector

1875 - 1953
Inducted in 1994

Biography

Ralph Hubbard Norton, an industrialist from Chicago, retired to West Palm Beach in 1939.  With his first wife, Elizabeth Calhoun Norton (1881-1953), he founded the Norton Gallery and School of Art in 1941 to house an extensive collection of major works that he and Elizabeth had collected for more than 20 years.

The Nortons' collection included the Impressionist and European modern masters, as well as key pieces of American paintings and sculpture.  Known today as the Norton Museum of Art, the museum holds more than 5,000 works, with a concentration in European, American and Chinese art along with contemporary art and photography.

Norton was born into an affluent Chicago family.  After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1900, he married Elizabeth Calhoun of Montgomery, Alabama whom he had met in college.  Elizabeth was the great grand-niece of the famous statesman, John C. Calhoun, who served as vice president under President John Quincy Adams.

Norton became a wealthy industrialist, retiring as president of the Chicago-based Acme Steel Company.  He and Elizabeth chose to spend their retirement years in Florida, so in 1939 the couple moved to West Palm Beach, bringing with them their sizeable art collection.  They immediately set about a plan to showcase the collection for the public's benefit.  Noted Palm Beach architect Marion Sims Wyeth was hired to design the museum, which he rendered in the late-Art Deco/Neo-Classic style.  (Wyeth later designed the current governor's mansion in Tallahassee, completed in 1956).

The Nortons' museum proved to be a boon to art museums around the country, because its founders saw fit to establish an endowment intended to support the facility in perpetuity.  The idea of an endowment created for such a purpose, a novelty of the day, inspired other art venues to follow suit.

Today, the Nortons' legacy is regarded as one of Florida's finest cultural treasures, a "must see" cultural attraction for visitors to South Florida.  In addition to maintaining its permanent collection, the museum annually hosts numerous touring art exhibits and other special events while also running a vigorous art education program for both adults and children.

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