Deceased May 24, 2006
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Earle W. Newton II
He was good at Amherst, and he got better and better in a life of cultural achievement that stretched deep into old age.
Phi Beta Kappa, Sphinx, president of his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, editor of Touchstone, the literary magazine, a friend of Robert Frost, Earle Newton went on to international recognition as a historian, author, editor, museum creator, and art benefactor. Heritages were his passion. He was decorated by Britain and Spain.
Earle died peacefully on May 24, 2006 at age eighty-nine at his home in Ponte Vedra, FL, after a long siege of poor health. The cause of death was congestive heart failure, his wife of sixty-eight years, Josephine, said. Besides her, he left a daughter, Antoinette N. Townsend; a sister, Nancy Felt; and a foster son, Augustin Fernandez, of Spain. His own son, Earle W. Newton III, Amherst ’66, died in 2000.
Early on, in the late 1940s, Earle founded two magazines, American Heritage and Vermont Life. He was the author of The Vermont Story: A History of the People of the Green Mountain State 1749-1949; Essays on the Social and Economic History of Vermont; Before Pearl Harbor; The Americanization of the Gulf Coast, 1803-1850; The Upper Connecticut: Narratives of its Settlement and its Part in the American Revolution; Spain and Her Rivals on the Gulf Coast; In Search of Gulf Coast Colonial History; and Our American Heritage: An Interpretation.
He established a Museum of the Americas in Brookfield, VT, and served as its president from 1989 to 2003. He was also a professor of art and presidential assistant at Norwich Univ. in Northfield, VT, in those years.
Close to his heart in his last years was the Newton Center for British and American Studies which he founded at the Savannah (GA) College of Art and Design in 2002, when he was eighty-five.
The collection includes more than 200 portraits by celebrated painters such as Van Dyck, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and Gilbert Stuart. There are more than 1,400 prints and many early maps. Earle’s own favorite artist, the Eighteenth-century English painter and printmaker, William Hogarth, is well represented as are early editions of two of Earle’s cherished writers, Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. Thousands have since visited the center amid a constant flow of exhibits and lectures.
An interviewer with the Savannah college paper quoted Earle as saying, “I just want to make sure the collection goes on. These people (in the paintings) will outlast all the students that study them. That’s why art is probably the most important element in the study of history.”
The center and his longtime desire to promote Anglo-American culture won Earle Queen Elizabeth II’s award of Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 2003 at a ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington. In 1965, he was made Knight Commander of the Order of Isabella la Catolica of Spain for his work in restoration of St. Augustine, FL, during the 1960s.
Born in Cortland, NY, Earle prepared for Amherst at Andover. An economics major, he enriched his own education over a long period of time. He got a masters degree at Columbia in 1939 and a PhD at Walden Univ. in Naples, FL, thirty-five years later in 1974. He did Fulbright studies in England and received a diploma in museum administration from Bristol Univ.. He was a senior research scholar at the Univ. of London and a lecturer at Uppsala Univ. in Sweden. During WWII, he served as a navy lieutenant at Pearl Harbor from 1944 to 1946.
The range of his directorships was dazzling. Among them were Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts; the Institute on Historical and Archival Management at Radcliffe-Harvard Universities; the Pennsylvania Bureau of Museums and Historic properties; the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board.
Signs of future achievement appeared early in Earle’s life. At thirteen, he started a print shop in his parents’ home. He printed cards, letterheads, pamphlets. He continued this during summers while he was a student at Amherst. Robert Frost, then poet-in-residence, was intrigued and offered Earle the opportunity to print the first separate edition of his poem, The Gold Hesperidee. The publisher’s copy was inscribed, “To Earle Newton, my best wishes in his next undertaking as a publisher, Robert Frost.”
George Bria ’38