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What’s the story behind Southport artist Art Newton?

Ben Steelman

A photographer as well as an artist, Art Newton (1922-1964) was one of Southport’s most colorful characters. A tragic early death in an apparent boating accident cut short a promising career.

Arthur Edmond Newton was born Aug. 31, 1922, in Southport, the son of John Roe Newton, a Coast Guardsman, and his wife, the former Ida Lee Fulcher.

Newton’s childhood was divided between Southport and the Outer Banks, where his father was assigned for many years. He graduated from Southport High School and served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II.

Newton studied at the Central Academy of Commercial Art in Cincinnati and at the Ozenfant School of Fine Art in New York. He worked as a commercial artist in New York for a number of years, including a stint with Avon Cosmetics (according to a 1964 profile in the State Port Pilot) before returning home.

Back in Southport, Newton was a jack-of-all-trades.He taught art classes at the high school and gave private lessons as well. (One of his students was the author Brooks Preik.) For a time, he was staff artist with WECT in Wilmington. Sue Ernest writes that he was founder of Southport Art, a pioneering arts group in the community.

Newton was also a photographer, and a number of his photos appeared in the State Port Pilot. In his “Hurricane Hazel in the Carolinas,” historian Jay Barnes wrote that Newton “captured some of the best images of Hazel’s might in the Southport and Long Beach areas.” Barnes’ book reproduces a number of those photos, along with a freehand map of the hurricane’s path that Newton sketched himself.

Newton edited and conributed photos for a souvenir booklet, “Hurricane Hazel Lashes Coastal Carolinas: The Great Storm in Pictures,” published by Wilmington Publishing Co. Copies can still be found through Amazon.com.

Newton also converted a number of his photos of Southport landmarks and scenes, as well as of Orton Plantation, into postcards, which are now highly collectible. (The Southport Times reproduces a number of his postcard images at its website.)

Preik remembers that Newton operated a small camera shop in Southport, which also sold some of his prints. (She worked there part-time.)

Newton was married to the former Vallie Bryant. (Preik, among many other jobs, also babysat their children.)

On July 16, 1964, Newton’s body was recovered from the Cape Fear River. According to The State Port Pilot, the coroner ruled the cause of death was accidental drowning. Newton was buried near his parents in the Old Smithville Burying Ground in Southport.


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