The inspiration for these awards is to reflect those that Deborah herself received as a youth and as an active adult artist – a Katherine Lord Scholarship for art lessons (1956) and the first Jessica Holt Purchase Award (1992). While these two museum awards have completed their run, the spirit of these rewarding experiences and recognitions will continue for generations.

To honor the life and work of Rockford artist Deborah Newton, a legacy endowment has been established by her family to emulate her own early exposure to art when she was in junior high school which planted the seeds for her life as a visual artist and the recognition she received as an adult artist, organizer, and developer. Her family believes that participation in visual arts is strongly integral to supporting growth in society, enhancing one’s skill set, and improving the overall quality of life – no matter what life path one chooses.

Supported by generous donations, the Deborah L Newton Legacy Endowment fund is held and managed by the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois to serve the Rockford area visual arts community in perpetuity.

Each award will give credit to the endowment fund and Deborah’s artwork and actions in support of the community and artists.

The Deborah L Newton Legacy Endowment provides annual funding to Rockford Art Museum for awards to inspire and encourage Rockford area 7th and 8th grade students to partake in art making experiences through the museum. Students, regardless of previous experience, will be considered by online application (below) and must simply express an interest in pursuing visual art.

The legacy endowment will also fund periodic museum awards of recognition to established visual artists active in the Rockford area to use toward the purchase, commission, or exhibit of their work via the museum. Artists may apply themselves or be nominated by any member of the community. See note regarding inaugural year (2023) at the bottom of this page.

In association with the inaugural awardee(s) introduction this spring (2023), a retrospective exhibit of Deborah’s work will occur at Rockford Art Museum. This exhibit will feature a broad and carefully curated collection of original works from six decades of her artistic venture, which continued through her final days. These joyful examples will be assembled from private holdings to weave a path forward for emerging artists of all ages. 

Award application–art-making experience for 7th and 8th grade rockford area students

Regardless of previous experience with visual art, students enrolled in 7th and 8th grade public or private schools or home-schooled students within the Rockford Area as defined in agreement between the museum and benefactor may apply. A map defining geographic area and a list of 36 schools and 2 home school organizations within the area is available from the museum upon request.

  • Call for applications:  January 30, 2023
  • Applications due: March 20, 2023
  • Selection group review: March 21-23, 2023
  • Award recipient notified: March 24, 2023
  • Awardee(s) meet with RAM to select/determine award experiences they desire: by April 14, 2023
  • Awardee(s) introduced at RAM event: April 21, 2023

– Meet eligibility requirement

– An interest in art making experience(s) at or through the RAM

– Showing self-motivation and interest in the visual arts

– An interest in possibility of pursuing visual art making over the course of life

– Desire and commitment to represent RAM and the award as a recipient and with the opportunity to be one of those

selecting the next recipient(s) of the award

– A written essay expressing the applicant’s interest, motivation, and commitment to receive award

– Letters of support from representatives of the school which they attend (or homeschooling organization from which they receive their curriculum)

Applicant submissions shall be made electronically using application below including uploading written essay and letters of support. Applicants who do not have personal access to the internet shall seek the assistance from their home room teacher or other school/homeschool representative.

Like the Katherine Lord Scholarship Deborah received when she was a 14-year-old Lincoln Junior High School home room 317 student in 1956 – a scholarship for art lessons at then named Burpee Museum of Art (now Rockford Art Museum), this award is to provide art making experiences that sow seeds in 7th and 8th grade students in the Rockford area (Winnebago, Rockton/South Beloit, Roscoe, Loves Park, Rockford, Cherry Valley, Belvidere and New Milford as defined on map in agreement between benefactor and RAM).

In Deborah’s own words written in 1986: ‘It should be noted that artwork done by students is a first experience in creating. It is this first offering that may entice and expand the student into artist. The legacy of this experience is to express, explore…and do art.’

Deborah’s home room teacher in all three years she was a Lincoln Junior High School student was Katheryn Machek. Though not known, it is likely the combination of personal connection made via a multi-year, no pressure, teacher-student relationship, and a teacher recognizing a student’s gift introduced Deborah to the experience that so affected her own life and the resulting affect she had on her patrons, fellow artists, and the community at large.

Ultimately the art making experiences shall be of mutual interest and benefit to the recipient(s) and RAM. There are many possibilities which allows recipients and RAM flexibility. Some examples include:

  • Art classes/lessons offered by RAM
  • Children’s art camps offered by RAM
  • Art making experiences (individual or group) offered by other organizations approved/selected by RAM (i.e. Rockford Area Arts Council, Womanspace, etc.)
  • Participation in annual Young Artists Exhibition (K-8 division) at RAM
  • Internship at RAM that, in part, includes participation in art making experience
  • Specially created (by recipient and RAM) art making experience (noting that this option requires recipient to agree to increased administrative effort/cost by RAM – thus reducing amount of funds applied toward experience)


Some examples of art making experiences offered by RAM in the past:

  • Cartoon Club (in person or virtual)
  • Superhero, Fantasy & SciFi Illustration Camp
  • Painting Camp: The Future and Other Worlds
  • Studio Artists Open Studio Group
  • Justice Through Art Drawing Lesson: Jean Michael Basquait Portraits
  • Ceramics Workshop with Lynn Fischer-Carlson
  • Augmented Reality with Veronica Soria Martinez
  • Meditation and Art Workshop with Elisa Ahmer
  • Future Photographers Camp with Stepahnie Kruger
  • Create a Mandala with Elisa Ahmer
  • Hand building Pottery Camp with Jenny Mathews
  • Beginning Water Color Painting
  • Wonderful Weaving and Drawing with Lorie Painter
  • Kawaii Camp
  • Oracle and the Elements Camp with Elisa Ahmer
  • Nature Books Camp
  • Papier Mache Camp

RAM will establish a group of three to five individuals (an odd number) to evaluate and select (a) recipient(s) from submitted applications. Following the inaugural year award, each subsequent selection group is to include the previous award recipient(s), unless RAM is unable to reach such recipient(s).

For applicants who are interested in learning more about Deborah, follow link to a brief biography:

Deborah Newton Biography

Call for artists: Poster 8.5×11
Poster instruction: Poster guidelines

award application/nomination–established and active artist recognition

In this inaugural year (2023), applications and awards are being limited to 7th and 8th grade students only – with periodic awards to artists to occur in future years. An additional summary of eligibility, criteria to apply, submission method/form, intent, possible forms of recognition, and selection group for artist applicants/nominees will be available when RAM chooses to offer those awards.