Thursday, December 29, 2005

Report from 2005 Woodcraft International Gathering

A look back at the 4th BlueSky!!!WorldWoodcraft international gathering that took place July 31st through August 13th, 2005. Preparations filled the week beforehand, getting in mountains of supplies and setting up camp at the Gordon Brown Outdoor Environmental Educational Centre in Hampshire, southern England. Since the 2002 gathering in the Czech Republic, Mick Tutt (Pelican), Gathering Convenor (and now International Liaison person) of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry (OWC), had been planning the campsite accommodations and program. (Full details are posted on this site elsewhere.) I arrived for the set-up, and was delighted to find friends from previous camps, both from the Czech Republic and the UK, already in residence.

The camp-ground housed several permanent teepees soon added to by tents large and small. Being one of the ‘elders’ I had the luxury of a real bed and private bath inside the main building. During the pre-camp we had use of the inside kitchen, but this was swiftly replaced by the camp kitchen set up outside with wood cook-stoves and griddles. One of the major activities at camp is always providing enough wood for the huge meals; outdoor life makes for large appetites and there were at least 75 of us on site. Each group took part as Clan in charge of meals for a particular day; from the eldest to the youngest there was a job for all.

After breakfast at Rally we got our orders for the day; wood cutting (from a nearby brush pile), Clan, and activities ranging from sports (I learned how to correctly hit a volleyball from the Czech girls), running games, beadwork, tie dying, finger braiding and knotting (Rosanna, a Czech girl, was very talented at this), making corn dollies, bags, mocassins and wood carving (to name but a few). Any talent anyone wanted to share was welcomed. Always popular was learning to make fire by rubbing sticks. We set up marquees to protect the arts and crafts, but were lucky with the weather after one bout of heavy rain. On two days we practiced handbell ringing. Tim Willetts even led us around the camp playing his precious bells. Some of the bigger lads helped Clive Bowen, the Gathering Craftsman, carve a totem pole to be left at the GB Centre as thanks for having us. It was completed after I left, but a photo shows a spread-winged eagle atop the pole with the Seton insignia of a shield with buffalo horns and other carvings below.

The formal opening of the camp was, as always, around the ceremonial fire, lit by one of the Czechs with a flint lighter. It is always amazing to see how fast they can get a blaze going without matches or butane! (The Czechs are real campers, as are the inimitable Westlake/Bowen families!) Everyone gathers around the Ceremonial Circle, surrounded by the regalia and symbols of all groups present, the OWC leaders wearing their impressive robes of office. I was honored once again to be the Representative of the West, to drop my ashes from a previous fire into “the same fire and always new” and say: “Behold I come with Greetings from your brethren of the West – bringing the Gift of Life, fulfilled, mature and rich in experience and wealth of wisdom, love and peace.” Czechs from the East, Forest Campers from the North, and OWC from the South completed the ceremony. This coming together is always one of the highlights of the camp and my only regret is that I am usually the lone representative of North America, the home of the first Seton Woodcrafters. I also read a letter of welcome, simultaneously translated by one of the Czech teachers, from the Academy for the Love of Learning, the new owners of Seton Castle and grounds outside Santa Fe.

During the week we learned each other’s songs and games, and exchanged crafts and stories, renewed old friendships and made new ones. One ‘tribe’ from the Czech Republic used Sioux Indian puppets to tell a legend (holding up English translation cards as they went along). Their drum played for a lively dance evening; the Czech groups favor 19th Century Sioux dress, crafts and dances, learned assiduously from careful research. During the week another bevy of Indians arrived – schoolchildren from Inner London, of Asian descent. They were welcomed into the activities of the Woodcrafters, and again, new friends were made, new dances shared, and Seton’s teachings upheld. I left a copy of Two Little Savages with Dave Twig of the GB Centre who was intrigued by Ernest Thompson Seton’s ideals and ethics.

Much effort goes into this tri-annual camp, next to be held in 2008 probably in the Czech Republic. We were sad that former Czech leader, Martin Kupka (Logan) and family were unable to attend, but Klara and Tomas and Czech Liga Lensi Moudrosti (Woodcraft League) chieftain, Ales Sedelak, worked with Mick Tutt and other OWC leaders on discussions about the future hopes and prospects of BlueSky!!!WorldWoodcraft. I for one hope it continues from strength to strength; these gatherings are not only enjoyable, but inspiring as well. My postcards would have said: “Having a wonderful time, wish you were here.”

Barbara Witemeyer
December 29, 2005

Monday, December 26, 2005

Preservation Online: Today's News Archives: Fire Destroys New Mexico Castle

Preservation Online: Today's News Archives: Fire Destroys New Mexico Castle: "Fire Destroys New Mexico Castle

Story by Margaret Foster / Nov. 17, 2005

Fire Destroys New Mexico Castle

Story by Margaret Foster / Nov. 17, 2005

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Seton Castle was less than a year into a $2 million restoration. (The Academy for the Love of Learning)
A 70-year-old castle burned down on Tuesday while undergoing a $2 million restoration.

No one was hurt in the blaze, which left little but the stone walls of Seton Castle, located south of Santa Fe, N.M.

"It was totally destroyed," says Judd Dean, Hondo Volunteer Fire Department's fire chief. "[The fire] was very, very fast. Three of the workers had to jump off the roof to escape. The building had been around for decades, and the fire just roared through the whole thing."

Seton Castle was the home of artist and naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), who helped found the Boy Scouts of America. Seton designed the 32-room castle himself in 1933, situating it on a hilltop on his 100-acre estate. Two years ago, his daughter sold the building—a National Historic Landmark—to the Santa Fe-based Academy for the Love of Learning, which won a $330,000 federal grant to repair water and vandalism damage.

The academy and its contractor, Wolf Corp., began restoring the building as an educational center early this year. At a groundbreaking ceremony in January, academy employees, along with many of Seton's ancestors, started a fire that "symbolically cleared our way of the potential obstacles ahead through the purification of fire," according to the academy's Web site.

The project was going well until the blaze, whose cause state investigators have not yet determined. So far, workers had cleaned and repaired the castle's exterior stonework, repaired windows and doors, created a new access road to the castle, and laid the foundations for a new caretaker's cottage and an art studio nearby. The academy was restoring more than 50 of Seton's works of art, including drawings and sketches.

The castle was scheduled to open to the public next fall.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Seton Castle Unlikely to be Rebuilt

Seton Castle unlikely to be rebuilt
Group that owns historic building plans to still use land for education
By Julie Ann Grimm The New Mexican
The historic Seton Castle — destroyed by fire this fall — probably won’t be rebuilt, but the nonprofit educational group that owns it plans to continue to use the land. State fire investigators have yet to determine what caused the Nov. 15 blaze that left the 32-room home in ruins and blanketed Seton Village south of Santa Fe in thick smoke for most of the midday. The Academy for the Love of Learning was two-thirds finished with a $2 million restoration project when the fire left standing only the building’s original stone walls. The castle was to be a space for children and teachers and to hold conferences on environmental and cultural issues. Embedded artwork and original woodwork had been cleaned and refinished, replacement windows were removed and restored to look more like the originals and a new radiant-heat system and floors had been installed — all of which perished in the fire. A work crew that was inside when the smoke appeared escaped without injury. “While the fire wrought changes in the plans and timing for the academy’s center on the land at Seton Castle, our vision for affecting culture change in education is very much alive,” academy founder Aaron Stern wrote in a letter to supporters earlier this month. The castle, built and named by naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton about 70 years ago, was a private home until 1998. In 2003, Seton’s family sold the property to the academy. Fortunately, at the time of the fire, hundreds of writings, artwork and other historic artifacts that belonged to Seton had been removed from the home. The academy plans a public showing of the work next fall in Santa Fe. It also plans to hold a series of public meetings to explore how it can best meet the “needs and longings that we share for a right education for children” Stern wrote. “Woven into this process will be an exploration of the next steps in creating on the Seton land a new Academy center to support our work.” The building was insured for fire, and the academy is working to recover some of its investment from its insurance company. One of the foundation’s major donors made a quiet commitment to match any donations received before March 31, the letter says. To reach the academy, call 995-1860 or log on to

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bibliography of Seton short stories/articles?

I am a librarian seeking a bibliography of Seton's short stories and articles. What I am specifically looking for is a reference to a story about wild dogs of New York City -- or possibly pets who have gone wild in New York City. It was supposedly published in a journal called "The American" in the 1910s or 1920s. Unfortunately I do not have a title.

My goal is to get a copy of the story, so if anyone knows another place where the story can be located (a collection?), that would also be great.

Thank you,
Anne Killheffer
Reference Librarian
Stratford Library Association
2203 Main St., Stratford, CT 06615


Seton Paintings

I have enjoyed reading your Blue Skies blog, which I discovered today. I also learned today about the fire at the Seton Castle, and am greatly saddened by the news. I visited the Castle in 2001 and was much impressed by it. Thanks for posting additional information about the fire, along with your and others' reactions to this terrible event.

I read the first posting on your blog (from January 2005) and noticed a comment to that post by a person named Ira who said he owns three original Seton works of art. Ira invited readers to contact him if they wished to see photos of the artwork. The link to Ira's email address is no longer working, and I am wondering if you have an up-to-date email address for him that you could provide to me.


Stefan Herpel

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Arson ruled out in Seton Castle fire

State and federal investigators have yet to determine the cause of a fire that nearly destroyed the Seton Castle last month. James Maxon, an investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s Office, said Monday he’s still testing a hypothesis about what started the fire at the historic home built by Boy Scouts of America co-founder Ernest Thompson Seton. An agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is helping the state, but at this point in the investigation, arson has been ruled out, Maxon said. “We did not feel that this fire was intentionally set.” The investigation could take several more weeks or months depending on what is uncovered, he said. Maxon said no one is being held culpable in the fire, but that could change with more evidence. A construction crew was working on a renovation inside the 32-room building when the fire broke out Nov. 15, however no one was hurt in the blaze. The Academy for the Love of Learning, which has owned the structure since 2003, has not determined whether it will rebuild. eNew Mexican

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Notes on the Fire by David Witt, Seton Collection Curator for the Academy for the Love of Learning

Seton Castle Fire November 15, 2005
The Academy for the Love of Learning, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a non-profit educational and research organization, whose mission is to awaken, enliven, nurture and sustain the natural love of learning in people of all ages. The Academy acquired Seton Castle in 2003 and earlier this year began a historically accurate renovation. The project was about three-quarters completed when the fire occurred. Information on the Academy and its programs is available on our website. More news about the fire and how you can help will also soon be posted.>

Notes on the fire are by David L. Witt, Seton Collection Curator for the Academy.

The first reaction to the death of a building is disorientation as the mind refuses to comprehend: billowing black smoke rises as if thrown up from a volcanic explosion on the hilltop. Residents of Seton Village rush outside of their homes only to stand as if frozen until cries of “the Castle!” from several present state the unthinkably obvious. Then the other senses come into play as the acrid scent of burned material, the taste of blowing dust, and the touch of fire heat overtake everyone.
Then sound creates yet another level of lasting impression. The first measures of barely audible crackling begin the movement in an ominous fashion. As we approach, a building noise crescendo comes from the roaring of burning wood and the play of winds, some atmospheric and others self-generated. Additional sounds are layered in – the generators and engines of fire trucks, the rush of liquid streams aimed at the conflagration, and finally passages of vocal accompaniment as firefighters give commands and helpless civilian onlookers tell stories of their escape or speculate on what is happening before us. After a couple hours of dramatic conflagration, the fire quiets to the low sizzle of flame, the popping of cooling masonry, the expanding and contracting of metal like little shrieks of percussion events.
With original construction begun around seventy-four years ago, and renovation started in the early part of this year, we witness the end of this phase of the Castle restoration. But even in the midst of the destruction, several persons dare to suggest that this transformation gives rise to hope for new creation, a rebuilding which will honor the Castle’s past and forward its legacy into the future. Historical layers (physical and memory) are fractal-like in complexity, a continuation of old patterns in ever renewing variations. That is, every moment past also leads to a new beginning, even from tragedy.
Seton states in Book of Woodcraft and The Gospel of the Redman the importance of overcoming the fear of death. The death of a building is not exactly what he had in mind, but his Woodcraft principles provide guidance (and maybe consolation) as we move on to create the next phase of Seton Castle history. Two traits he valued were courage and perseverance, demonstrated in the Four Lamps (or laws) of Woodcraft – Beauty, Truth, Fortitude, and Love. Taking just one example from each: The Lamp of Beauty: “Conserve the woods and flowers and especially be ready to fight wild fire in forest or in town.” In the event, fire fighters and wind conditions kept the fire from spreading into the piƱon woodland or neighboring houses. The Lamp of Truth: “Be reverent.” The majesty of unstoppable fire forces at least a kind of respect, but also a sincere thankfulness that all the construction workers and firefighters escaped injury. The Lamp of Fortitude: “Be brave. Courage is the noblest of all attainments.” We need this as we face the rebuilding. The Lamp of Love: “Be joyful. Seek the joy of being alive.”
The staff of the Academy for the Love of Learning, residents of Seton Village, and a large number of concerned persons (via email, phone contact, etc.) have come together for mutual support. A gathering took place there on November 30th for those most directly affected. Paying homage to our beloved Castle is the kind of “tribal” gathering Seton would have approved.

Editor's Comment

I received this submission from David Witt this morning. I met with David in early October in Taos and had planned to write about our visit in this venue when news of the fire reached me a few weeks later. I instantly felt comfortably with David as he shared his story about working at Philmont in his college days, including a stint at the Seton Library. He was drawn by the magic of New Mexico as many others, myself included, have been and has lived in the area now for many years. We specifically discussed ways in which interested people can help in the restoration of Seton works and other possible collaborative efforts. I expect you will hear more on the those topics soon.