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Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton

New Exhibit Traces How One Wolf’s Death Led to a Century of Wildlife Conservation

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Photo credit: Black Wolf of the Currumpaw, an oil on board painting by Ernest Thompson Seton, 1893.
Photo courtesy of Philmont Museum.

Santa Fe (Jan. 27, 2010) – Opening May 23 at the New Mexico History Museum, Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton dedicates itself to telling the often overlooked story of the conservationist, author, artist, lecturer and co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America. Ernest Thompson Seton’s impact on America’s conservation movement was immeasurable but, today is largely forgotten. Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton sets out to change that.

Running through May 8, 2011, this original exhibition replaces Fashioning New Mexico in the museum’s second-floor Albert and Ethel Herzstein Changing Exhibitions Gallery. It's accompanied by a catalog, Ernest Thompson Seton, The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist (Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 2010), with a foreword written by Sir David Attenborough.

Curated by New Mexico art historian David L. Witt, director of the Seton Legacy Project for the Academy for the Love of Learning in Santa Fe, Wild at Heart marks the first major exhibition about Seton. Most of the art and artifacts – more than 30 original paintings and drawings by Seton, books, personal memorabilia, and photographs – have been seldom if ever seen. Most of the items on loan to the exhibit come from the Academy for the Love of Learning and from the Philmont Museum and Seton Memorial Library at the Philmont Ranch in Cimarron, N.M.

Location: Santa Fe Plaza at 113 Lincoln Avenue.

Information:  505-476-5200 or visit www.nmhistorymuseum.org

Days/Times: Monday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.  Open Free on Fridays, 5:00-8:00 p.m., with the exception of major exhibition openings. 

Admission: $6 NM residents; $9 others. Free to NM residents with ID on Sundays and NM seniors 60 and older with ID on Wednesdays. Free to everyone 5-8 pm Fridays. Students with ID receive a one-dollar discount. $15 for one-day pass to two museums of your choice (Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Museum of International Folk Art, New Mexico Museum of Art, and Palace of the Governors/New Mexico History Museum) OR $20 four-day pass to five museums (includes all 4 listed above and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art). Youth 16 and under, Foundation Members, and New Mexico Veterans with 50% or more disability always free.

Tours: There is no charge for educational groups attending the museum with their instructor and/or adult chaperones. Contact the Tours office by phone at (505) 476-5157 to arrange class/group visits to the Museum.
Direct flights now connect Santa Fe, Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles on American Eagle.


More About Ernest Thompson Seton
Born in England in 1860, Seton moved to Canada with his family when he was six, and eventually settled in the United States as an adult. As a young man, he immersed himself in the study of the natural world, becoming one of the first important experts on animal behavior. Schooled in fine art, Seton was a prolific writer and illustrator.

In 1893, Seton was sent to Clayton, N.M., by an Easterner who owned the L Cross F in the northeastern part of the state. Seton’s assignment: track and kill marauding wolves. After a brutal encounter with a wild wolf named "Lobo," Seton experienced a profound change of heart. He wrote “The King of Currumpaw, A Wolf Story,” published to worldwide acclaim in Scribner's Magazine the following year. Through that story, Seton invented the genre of the realistic animal story, portraying animals as they actually live in the wild and changing forever the way Americans looked at nature.

“Seton is a godfather to today's environmental movement, as important to the early development of wildlife conservation as John Muir is to wilderness preservation,” Witt said.

In 1902, Seton founded an outdoor youth-education program known as "Woodcraft" that provided a model for all subsequent summer camps in the Untied States. In 1910, Seton co-founded the Boy Scouts of America.
“His contributions to the environmental movement and to science, literature, art and youth education have enriched the lives of hundreds of millions of boys, girls and their families for more than a century,” said Witt, who himself earned the rank of Eagle Scout in 1967.

Seton was the most important and technically accomplished wildlife illustrator since Audubon. His concepts for bird identification inspired the field guides of Roger Tory Peterson and others. In all, Seton authored some 40 books and more than 1,000 magazine articles and short stories, and drew or painted some 6,000 works of art. His book Wild Animals I Have Known has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1898. (Rudyard Kipling once wrote to Seton that the book inspired him to write the Jungle Books; in his foreword to the Seton catalog,  Attenborough recounts receiving a copy of the book at the age of 8: “I still have it. It was the most precious book of my childhood.”)

Much of Seton’s understanding of nature came not from Western science, but from his extensive studies with First Nations peoples in Canada. Seton was a vocal supporter of Indian political rights and a passionate advocate for the study of Indian culture, ethics and history.

In 1930, Seton moved to a 2,500-acre ranch in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains outside of Santa Fe, founding the Seton Village neighborhood, where he lived until his death in 1946. He designed Seton Castle as his residence on the property, which included a museum, library, art gallery and library/lecture hall for the Seton Village community that developed as friends and colleagues settled on the original property.

It was there that Seton established his final educational project, the College of Indian Wisdom (later, the Seton Institute). Classes focused on the arts, crafts and ethics of Native peoples. Seton and his second wife, Julia, published a book of Indian history and ethics, The Gospel of the Redman.

Today, the Seton Legacy Project promotes Seton’s life and work as an artist and writer, naturalist and conservationist, and leading proponent of outdoor education through nature-based programming and the Seton Gallery in Seton Village. The Academy undertook the project after acquiring Seton’s house and remaining art collections in 2003. This summer, the Academy will unveil the Seton Castle Contemplative Gardens, the Ernest Thompson Seton Gallery, and the new Center, a LEED-registered, environmentally responsible facility.

Participants in the Seton Legacy Project include Seton family members, historians and others with a special interest in the subject, including Witt, a naturalist, writer, historian and museum curator who has studied the Seton legacy for more than 35 years. He assisted on the BBC/PBS Nature television series feature called Lobo, The Wolf That Changed America, which premiered in both the U.S. and the U.K. in 2008.

The New Mexico History Museum is the newest addition to a campus that includes the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States; Fray Angélico Chávez History Library; Palace of the Governors Photo Archives; the Press at the Palace of the Governors; and the Native American Artisans Program. The New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs. For more information, visit www.nmhistorymuseum.org.