Joseph Veach Noble, who died at the age of 87 last September, was a true Renaissance man who stood large on the world stage and yet had his feet and heart firmly planted in Maplewood. He was interested in antiquities, technology, history, filmmaking, ceramics and art -- and his community.
Mr. Noble, as he was known to even those he asked to call him “Joe,” lived in Maplewood with his family for most of his adult life. From 1956 to 1971 he served as vice director for administration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1971 he became director of the Museum of the City of New York, where he began his long and successful tenure with an innovative blockbuster show on the New York drug scene. He served as president of American Association of Museums for many years.
Back home, he designed the Great Seal of the Town of Maplewood and in the late 1950s was instrumental in envisioning and bringing to fruition the creation of the nine murals that fill the niches of the main room in Town Hall. He chose the artist, Stephen Juharos, and researched and oversaw the design of the murals, which tell the history of Maplewood and portray many of its landmarks.
Mr. Noble then turned his research into a book illustrated by the murals. In 2004, when Township Historian Jack Bausmith led a campaign to restore the murals, Mr. Noble graciously allowed his book to be reprinted to raise money for the project.
A Personal Interest in Durand-Hedden
Mr. Noble took a very personal interest in the creation and growth of the Durand-Hedden House as a Trustee, mentor and teacher. He helped Durand-Hedden secure the two superb portraits and a landscape by Asher B. Durand that are the focal points of the house’s Victorian parlor. He generously provided invaluable advice during the restoration of the House and guided the Trustees in the correct procedures for acquisition and storage of the collections.
Mr. Noble designed the bronze plaque marking the location of the Asher B. Durand property at the corner of Durand and Ridgewood Roads. He convinced the owners of the property to allow the plaque, on its huge granite boulder, to be permanently installed there.
On behalf of the Durand-Hedden House, he designed and paid for a bronze book-shaped sculpture honoring Maplewood’s first schoolmaster, James Ricalton, and had it installed in Ricalton Square.
Mr. Noble began collecting ancient Greek vases and other antiquities in the late 1940s and by the mid-1960s owned the largest private collection of Athenian vases in the United States. The collection is now owned by the Tampa Museum of Art.
“He was pragmatic and an intrepid visionary – he had no fear of critics, nay-sayers or the constraints of tradition,” said Durand-Hedden President Susan Newberry. “He was the embodiment of our philosophy to bring history to life.”
In a 1972 interview, Mr. Noble said, “I feel we should keep one foot in the past. The past is only prologue, but unless you know what the prologue is, you can’t really know the present.”