Inside Shreveport’s Norton Art Gallery
The Top Five Pieces to Check out at the Gallery:
- .45 Caliber 1906 Luger
- Mary Cassatt: Mother and Daughter, Both Wearing Large Hats
- Auguste Rodin: The Thinker
- Paul Revere: Bell
- 14th Century Book of Hours
The Top Five Traveling Exhibitions displayed at the Gallery:
- Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius (2004)
- Paws and Reflect: Art of Canines (2008)
- Marc Sijan: Ultra-Realistic Sculpture (2009)
- Guild Hall: An Adventure in the Arts (2013)
- Norman Rockwell: The Powers Collection
10 things you may not know about the R.W. Norton Art Gallery:
- The museum has published two books, In the Shadow of Danger: Photographs of the Vietnam War 1970-71 and I remember the difficult times… World War II recollections from Shreveport, Louisiana, based on content collected through its Oral History Project interviews.
- The R.W. Norton Art Gallery sits on 43 acres of botanical gardens with over two miles of walk paths.
- The basement of the museum, housing administration, storage, and engineering spaces, runs the full length of the upstairs public space.
- As of this writing, the museum’s permanent collection comprised of paintings, sculptures, posters, prints, and decorative arts, etc. totals 8,425 objects.
- Pieces on exhibit at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery are also found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The National Gallery of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Smithsonian American Art Museum, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, the Baltimore Museum of Art and many more.
- The R.W. Norton Art Foundation commissioned Louisiana artist Lloyd Hawthorne to paint an image of Captain Henry Miller Shreve clearing the Great Raft. That image is now used in textbooks, publications, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Offices across the Nation.
- Actor Keith Carradine, Neiman Marcus CEO Stanley Marcus, actor Antonio Banderas, actress Meg Ryan, entrepreneur and philanthropist Pierre du Pont, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and singer Tony Bennett have all been patrons of the R.W. Norton Art Gallery.
- The water purification system, The Dolphin, at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery was originally developed as a sustainable method for purification using no chemicals for the process and is used by the Department of Defense, Department of State, and The Department of Veterans Affairs.
- The Gallery has an astonishingly large collection of miniatures from early America that include portraits of the nation’s founding fathers. One of the George Washington miniatures contains a locket of hair believed to be from the first president.
- The R.W. Norton also houses an extensive Rare and Antiquarian Library. Within the Library collection there are letters signed by every president of the United States until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s term as president.
A History of the Norton Art Gallery
In the early 1920s, Richard W. Norton (1886-1940) became one of the discoverers of the Rodessa Oil Field in north Louisiana. Over time, Norton’s wife and son began to amass a significant collection of fine art. In 1946, to honor Norton and for the benefit of the community, Richard W. Norton, Jr. (1919-1974) and his mother, Mrs. Richard W. Norton (1886-1975) created the R.W. Norton Art Foundation. In turn, the Foundation eventually established the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, basing its initial collection upon donations from the acquisitions of the Norton family.
When the museum building was originally planned, it was decided to use a contemporary design that would be light, open and possess the potential for expansion. The R.W. Norton Art Gallery opened to the public in November 1966. The long-range plans of the founders were realized when an expanding collection made it necessary to begin creating additions to the main building. The Gallery’s South Wing opened in 1990 and the North Wing opened in 2003.
The building houses the Norton Permanent Collection, which is comprised of American and European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, which span more than 40 centuries. The Gallery also houses a Rare and Antiquarian Library containing approximately 15,000 volumes on a variety of topics. This non-circulating collection includes rare books and folios, including the very rare double elephant folio of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America.
In recent years the museum has developed extensive programs to continue to contribute to the community. The Oral History Project (OHP) is dedicated to preserving the stories of the men and women who so positively influenced the world. The OHP department has completed and archived over 700 of interviews to date. As the project expanded, its scope grew to include veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, The Civil Rights Movement, Louisiana musical pioneers, oil and gas industry entrepreneurs and local community leaders.
The museum has also established an education department in support of local and regional schools from pre-school through college. The museum and its resources are used as an extra mural classroom in which children can receive their entire day’s worth of academic curriculum using lesson plans developed specifically for that class and using the art as textbooks. In this way, the R.W. Norton Art Gallery functions as a teaching museum suitable for both children and professional development for educators.
Other ways in which the Norton interacts with and contributes to the community are in the after-hours public events. The “Norton at Night” evenings celebrate specific topics and their relationship to art such as the recent “Art of Love” in which the museum explored artists’ romances while attendees sipped champagne and nibbled on chocolates. The annual “Night at the Museum” allows the art to literally come to life, courtesy of local actors followed by an outdoor movie on the grounds. And, for children of any age, is the “Trick or Treating at the Norton” event with its costume contest and treats inside the building.
The R.W. Norton Art Gallery continues to strive to contribute to the community through public events, education, and historical preservation. The initial contributions continue to grow annually, and the museum is constantly evolving to become a more effective tool for the community.
Q&A with Lewis Norton
Lewis Norton, chairman of the board of control for the R.W. Norton Art Foundation, is a Shreveport native and has run the R.W. Norton Art Gallery since 2003.
SB: What excites you about coming to work every day?
I am excited to watch the museum’s staff in action. Watching these talented professionals every day as they hurl themselves into their work with a joy and endurance I have seldom witnessed elsewhere is a privilege. I am reminded time and time again by the reactions from the public in general and children in particular just how good these men and woman are and how lucky I am to be a part of this wonderful group. Knowing that the staff is using the resources of the museum to make a positive difference in lives around the world is exactly the purpose tasked to the Foundation at its inception and for me personally, a very satisfactory feeling.
SB: Complete this sentence, “When I think of the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, I think…”
of time, patience, and my parents. Although the R.W. Norton Art Foundation was created in 1946, it wasn’t until 1966 that the museum itself was opened to the public. The knowledge that my mother and father waited 20 years quietly growing the collection and the endowment until they were able to fulfill their dream by opening the museum is a sobering thought set against today’s ethos of instant gratification. Their example has impacted all phases of growth since that time, the South Wing in 1991, the North Wing in 2003, and future expansion currently in the planning stage.
SB: Where do you see the R.W. Norton Art Gallery 20 years in the future?
Over the Foundation’s 70-year history, the collection has grown significantly. This coupled with a very dynamic education program has placed the museum in a position of becoming increasingly more culturally relevant to the city and region in the coming years. Our limiting factor now becomes space to accommodate these new programs and what surely will follow. However, with society changing so quickly, I really can’t imagine what the world will look like in 20 years, much less a museum’s role in it. I can only hope that tangible reality and education will still have meaning in that future.