Ruth Eleanor Newton (1884 – 1972)
A noted children’s artist and designer, Ruth Eleanor Newton achieved international stature as an illustrator. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania on March 6, 1884, she was the daughter of Lynn and Agnes Elliott Newton. Her father was employed as a manager for Lake Erie Manufacturing Company.
She attended the local schools and graduated from Erie High School in 1902. She had taken art classes as part of her curriculum and also took private lessons at the Catlin School of Art. Her instructor, Lovisa Card Catlin, helped her secure a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. Just prior to graduation there, she entered an illustration contest and, winning a cash prize, found her desire as an illustrator. In the following years, she freelanced; designing greeting cards for Rust Craft and drawing advertisements for Ivory Soap among other assignments. By 1908 she had settled back in Erie, Pennsylvania.
By the 1920’s she was working under contract for Whitman Publishing Company in New York, producer of Little Golden Books, an association that lasted a total of 20 years. The company lists 43 titles that she illustrated, including The Night Before Christmas, Mother Goose, and Peter Rabbit among the most popular. Books were a prime source of children’s entertainment at the time and her drawing reflected her distinctive style, being geared to youthful appeal. They featured colorful, chubby and kewpie-like youngsters and bright-eyed, gentle-faced animals. Her whimsical figures of little people, their playmates, their pets and personified animals brought joy to thousands of youngsters through their decades of popularity.
By 1925 the demand for her drawings necessitated her hiring an assistant to work in her Greenwich Village apartment where she maintained a studio. A vivacious woman, Newton possessed a fertile imagination, gumption, a sharp wit and insatiable curiosity. She once remarked; “If I live to be a thousand, I don’t think I will have time to put all my ideas into effect.” She eventually came to be regarded as one of three leaders of children’s art in the United States.
In 1948 her attention turned to the design of dolls. She was asked to design a doll to be marketed in conjunction with the birth of a baby on the celebrated “Amos and Andy” radio show that debuted in February, 1949. Not long after, the Sun Rubber Company of Ohio began producing and distributing Newton’s doll named Amosandra. In all, she designed 27 dolls for the company over the next 20 years.
Ruth Eleanor Newton retired in 1968 and returned to Erie, Pennsylvania where she continued to paint landscapes, still working well into her 80’s. She died on May 27, 1972 at the age of 88.
Biography excerpted from the unpublished manuscript by Dr. Kirk W. Steehler, “Erie Artists – a History of Heroes.” Courtesy of Erie Art Museum.
Written and submitted by Edward P. Bentley, researcher of Lansing, Michigan