Designer working on new city seal for Newton

The City of Newton has hired designer Sebastian Ellington Ebarb to design a new city seal.

Ebarb, who is a design professor at Northeastern University, is an experienced artist and has done city seal resigns for other communities, such as Natick. He is also Native American and has done many designs for Native communities and businesses.

The City Seal Redesign Group was first convened in the fall of 2020. They want a design that does not have an image of John Eliot evangelizing indigenous people, which the current seal does. The current seal also mentions Nonantum, which is what Eliot called his short-lived settlement but that is not near the present-day village of Nonantum. The City is also hoping for a design that will be simpler and easier to reproduce in a variety of formats.

“The City Seal is on everything, it’s everywhere,” noted Hattie Kerwin Derrick, Director of Community Engagement & Inclusion. “It should be as legible on a trash can as it is on letterhead.”

They put out the request for proposals in October 2023. They reviewed three, with a committee made up of Lisa Dady, the Director of Historic Newton, Shubee Sikka, an urban designer for the Newton Planning Department, Bill Humphrey from Ward 5 of the City Council, and Hattie Kerwin Derrick.

They hope the process will be done in ten months, “but we’re looking for the best product, so we can extend it,” Kerwin Derrick said. They want to ensure there is plenty of time for community feedback. The initial working group on the seal had 19 people, but the new one has six, including a representative from the City Council.

The report from the working group said they want to retain the circular shape and outer rings, but that they want to change the founding date to say “Founded in 1630 on Massachusett land.” They feel like 1688 and 1873 are optional. Whether or not to keep “liberty and union” will depend on the final design outcome.

The change will not happen immediately. “What we’re looking at is a phased in process,” said Kerwin Derrick.

This means that when the city buys something new, it will have the new seal on it. “We’re not changing things in the rotunda,” she added, referring to the seal that is inlaid at City Hall. They do however plan on having signage to explain it.

She said the response to the proposed redesign has been mixed. “There’s a group that really sees the need to change, and a group that wants to hold onto what we have,” she said. She added that the City has reached out to different local indigenous groups to ask their opinion on changing, and they’ve also had a mixed response.

The current seal dates to 1865, with slight changes when Newton became a city in 1874. The original designer is not known, but there were numerous depictions of John Eliot evangelizing that could have been used as a model. The location is now memorialized as Eliot Memorial Park at Eliot Memorial Road and Magnolia Street, near the Newton Commonwealth Golf Course. It’s likely that one of the people depicted is Waban, a Nipmuc man who converted after hearing Eliot preach in 1646. More about the origins of the current seal can be found here, prepared by Lisa Dady of Historic Newton.