New Mexico History Museum

Wild at Heart Exhibit Celebrates Ernest Thompson Seton and Connects People with Nature

March 14, 2011


Now entering its final two months on exhibit, Wild at Heart: Ernest Thompson Seton offers plenty of opportunities to involve you and your family in free activities dedicated to connecting people with the natural world.

Tour the ruins of Seton Castle. Join Audubon experts for an urban bird hike in the "wilds" of downtown Santa Fe. Hear an update on efforts to reintroduce the Mexican wolf to the wild.

The exhibition represents the first museum exhibit to tell 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 through the exhibit and special programming (see schedule, below).

Running through May 8, 2011, the exhibit is 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 of the Academy for the Love of Learning, home of the Seton Legacy Project in Santa Fe (, Wild at Heart includes more than 30 original paintings and drawings by Seton, books, personal memorabilia, and photographs – many of which 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.

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.

Seton was the most important and technically accomplished wildlife illustrator since Audubon, and his concepts for bird identification influence the field guides of Roger Tory Peterson and others. In all, Seton wrote 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.”)

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.

The Academy undertook the Seton Legacy Project after acquiring Seton’s house and remaining art collections in 2003. Participants in the Seton Legacy Project include Seton family members, historians and others, 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 remaining Wild at Heart programs:

Saturday, March 26, 2011, 10 am-3 pm: Birds of a Feather Explore Together. Spend the morning at the History Museum learning about nests, feathers and more. After lunch, enjoy games and bird-watching at the Randall Davey Audubon Center. A free family event; space limited. E-mail Dana Vackar Strang at or call (505) 983-4609.

Saturday, April 9, 2011, 9 am: Urban Bird Hike in downtown Santa Fe with the Randall Davey Audubon Center. Call (505) 476- 5106 for reservations; free.

Sunday, April 10, 2011, 2 pm: Return of the Lobo: The Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. Maggie Dwire, assistant coordinator of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Mexican Wolf Recovery Program, speaks on efforts to return the wolf to the wild. A free event in the History Museum Auditorium.

Saturday, April 23, 2011, 10 am - 1 pm: Seton Castle tour.  Join Seton Collection curator David L. Witt and Academy for the Love of Learning staff on a guided tour of Seton Castle and Seton Village, south of Santa Fe. Free; reservations required. Call (505) 995-1860. Besides touring the ruins of Seton's Castle, visit the brand-new Academy Center and a gallery with its Seton Legacy Collection.

Friday, April 29, 2011, 6 pm: William deBuys on "Growing Up with Uncle Ernest's Wildlife Stories," a lecture in the History Museum Auditorium. Free with museum admission (Sundays free to NM residents).

Sunday, May 1, 2011, 2 pm: Guest curator David L. Witt on "Woodmythe & Fable: A Look Back at an Artist-Naturalist," a lecture in the History Museum Auditorium. Free with museum admission (Sundays free to NM residents).


Media contact: Kate Nelson, Marketing Manager, New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, (505) 476-1141 or (505) 554-5722 (cell);

Academy for the Love of Learning: Melissa Stevens-Briceño, Community Development Manager, (505) 995-1860;

Curator: David L. Witt , Academy for the Love of Learning, (575) 758-0619

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