Going from Little Rock, Arkansas, to College Station, Texas, last Sunday, Ruth and I had extra time so we tried, and failed, to find a museum in Louisiana that we visited many years ago. We did, however, find the R. W. Norton Art Gallery. Ruth fell in love with it the moment she saw its extensive, unusual Steuben glass collection. Over time, Norton moved up to a 5 Compass attraction for me too.
Free and non-profit, R. W. Norton is at 4747 Creswell Avenue in a park-like, high-end Shreveport neighborhood setting. Richard Norton, who died in 1940, discovered Louisiana’s Rodessa Oil Field and his wife, Annie Miles Norton, and their son, Richard Jr., amassed an eclectic collection that required the addition of North and South museum wings. I was told that even though the Norton just expanded again, some of its best stuff is still in storage.
Since the Norton’s mission is “to advance knowledge of works of art and literature”, quotes by well-known people now grace its walls. Ruth loved them as much as the Steuben and kept coming over to borrow my notebook to write them down. #1 is a Persian proverb, “He who wants the rose must respect the thorn.”
The first time I wandered into the research library, I didn’t see the Nortons’ most impressive acquisition, a complete, intact 1st edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. Luckily, I went back after I found a room literally stuffed with Remington’s and Russell’s, where Norton moved up to 5 Compass experience, and learned about an artist far better than Audubon, John Gould.
Ruth’s favorite Charles Russell painting was “Indian Beauty Parlor” in which a tough looking warrior type is having his hair braided. Ruth was enchanted by this tender scene of domestic life in Native American society and insisted that I photograph it. By this time she had also fallen in love with The Grey-Blumenstiel Doll Collection. She dragged me away from Norton’s guns to see these dolls. Queen Victoria would probably be pictured above instead of the braiding maiden if Ruth had written this blog. I did pause to read about the Queen Victoria doll, however, and learned that Victoria started a fashion trend when she wore a white wedding dress in 1840. Until then, most wedding dresses were grey. Who knew? Dolls are the world’s oldest toys according to the R. W. Norton Art Gallery.
Ruth cared only slightly for Felix Kelly. He was, I thought, a pretty good painter who lived to be 80 and died in 1994. A New Zealander who spent most of his adult life in England, Felix somehow fell in love with the beauty and decay of the traditional American South and painted romanticized New Orleans scenes, riverboats, plantation mansions, etc. The Norton surely has one of the best collections of his stuff.
If you like offbeat, atypical museums, Norton will win you over quickly and lead to an intense love affair. Just ask Ruth.