Norman Thomas Newton (1898-1992)
Landscape architect Norman Thomas Newton was born in Corry, Pennsylvania on April 21, 1898. He served as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve before completing two degrees in landscape design at Cornell University. Following graduation, he worked at the firm of Bryant Fleming, the noted landscape architect, in Wyoming, New York. In 1923 Newton received the prestigious Rome Prize in landscape architecture, spending the next three years at the American Academy in Rome studying the gardens of Italian villas, most notably the Villa Chigi and the Villa Medici. He opened his own firm in 1932, receiving numerous commissions under the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program. From 1933 to 1939 he served as the Associate Landscape Architect for the National Park Service. His projects included Bedloe’s Island (today, Liberty Island, the site of the Statue of Liberty), the Saratoga Battlefield National Historical Park in Stillwater, New York, and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Salem, Massachusetts. He then began lecturing at Harvard University as Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture.
During World War II, Newton served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. In 1943 he was recruited by the Roberts Commission for service with the MFAA in Italy.He arrived in the North African Theater in October and was later assigned to central Italy. He entered Umbria with British Eighth Army, following the advance northward and conducting inspections of damaged monuments in need of first aid. In Ravenna, he inspected the Basilica of San Vitale, whose domed ceiling and walls featured the priceless sixth-century mosaics depicting Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora. While bombs had demolished the adjacent building and damaged the cloister, the mosaics remained intact. When rising flood waters threatened their safety, Newton acquired a gasoline pump to remove the water before it reached the height of the mosaics. Newton remained in Italy until February 1946 as Director of the MFAA Sub-Commission in Italy.
For his contribution to the preservation of Italian cultural heritage, the Italian government named him Commander of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, and Grand Officer of the Crown of Italy. He was awarded the Star of Italian Solidarity in 1950. Newton published an account of his work as a Monuments Man in Italy in his book, War Damage to Monuments and Fine Arts of Italy (1946).
Following his return to the United States, Newton resumed his lectures at Harvard University. He remained at Harvard for twenty years until his retirement as Charles Elliot Professor Emeritus in 1966. His retirement was short-lived, however. The next year he became Resident Landscape Architect at the American Academy in Rome. In 1971 he wrote the first comprehensive history of landscape architecture, Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture (1971). The book includes forty-two chapters and documents detailing the evolution of landscape architecture from private gardens of the ancient world to contemporary public spaces. He was a fellow of the American Academy in Rome, President and trustee of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and a member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno and the Century Association of New York City.
Norman Newton died in Cambridge, Massachusetts on September 12, 1992. Following his death, his wife created the Norman T. Newton Prize at Harvard University, awarded annually to one deserving student of landscape architecture.
Photo courtesy of the Walter Gleason Collection, The Monuments Men Foundation Collection, the National WWII Museum, New Orleans, LA.