Thursday, August 28, 2008

After the Fire ; Center To Pay Tribute to Seton and His Iconic Castle

Raam Wong Journal Staff Writer
1174 words
4 August 2008

The burned-out ruins of the historic Seton Castle loom atop a hill southeast of Santa Fe, a melancholy reminder of the rambling 30- room structure that once was.

In November, it will be three years since flames and smoke engulfed the 70-year-old building off Old Las Vegas Highway, reducing its five uneven stories down to one.

Ernest Thompson Seton may have co-founded the Boy Scouts of America and earned fame as an early American naturalist, but even his admirers have acknowledged that he was a pretty terrible builder.

"I always imagined he had a hammer in his hand when he died," said Aaron Stern, founder of the nonprofit that owns the castle. The Academy for the Love of Learning was midway through a $2 million renovation of the 6,900-square-foot building when the fire broke out.

The Academy had considered rebuilding the castle, a national historic landmark, before determining the cost of bringing it up to code was too high. But this summer, a new building echoing Seton's spirit -- if not his building methods -- is rising in the castle's shadow.

Seton Village

In the early 1930s, Seton divorced his first wife, married his secretary and assistant, adopted a daughter and moved from the East Coast to 2,500 acres south of Santa Fe, where he went to work building an "academy of outdoor life." Seton was in his 70s, with a bushy white mustache that curled up at the ends.

He had spent his life drawing and writing about wildlife and the environment and establishing the Woodcraft League, an alternative version of the Boy Scouts that honors nature and wildlife and encourages people to protect and nurture the natural world.

A community eventually grew on Seton's sprawling compound, as he established a college, printing press and even a zoo, according to Stearn.

Many of the Seton Village homes today dotting the hills trace their lineage to tepees that Seton had installed for visitors to his summer camps. The tepees were later replaced by railroad boxcars, some of which still form the core of many of the high-priced homes in the area.

At the center of it all has sat Seton's ramshackle castle, whose oddly shaped rooms stuffed with all sorts of curiosities stirred the imaginations of generations of children peaking through the windows.

Since Seton's death in 1946 at the age of 96, followers and admirers from all over the world have made pilgrimages to the castle. His daughter, Dee Seton Barber, lived in the home through the late 1990s before opting to sell it.

The Academy for the Love of Learning purchased the structure in 2003. The castle had a million problems, with no foundation in some places and walls with no studs. The place reeked of mildew and was filled with numerous buckets meant to catch the rain water.

The academy embarked on a $2 million renovation. The bottom level where carriages once parked was to be used as office space for the 12-employee academy, while the rest was slated for leadership and ecological awareness programs for young people.

On Nov. 15, 2005, Stern was on a flight to New York when a problem with the airplane's hydraulic system forced an emergency landing, as numerous firetrucks were on standby on the runway. The frightening experience seemed to foretell the conversation he would have with his office after the plane safely landed.

Back in Seton Village, the fire had spread quickly through the castles' adobe and stone walls, wood floors and vigas, as construction workers involved in the restoration fled for safety. The cause of the blaze was never determined.

"It was a shock," Stern said. "It was horrible."

Academy, take two

Today, the castle appears frozen in time to that November afternoon. An open trench holds pipes where DSL lines were to carry high-speed internet into the castle, while a pile of vigas waiting to be installed sit roasting in the sun. Weeds grow amid the gutted castle walls and the bell above the entry gate hasn't been rung in years.

Rebuilding the castle would have meant widening the stairways and hallways and other costly steps to bring the building up to code, Stern said.

But new life is coming to Seton Village. Earlier this year, the academy broke ground nearby on a $10 million, stucco-and-glass building in which Seton's legacy will play a prominent role.

Part of the bottom floor will house Seton's voluminous collection of art and writings, his library and other artifacts that were safe in storage at another location when the fire hit. The collection includes a letter from Helen Keller and signed books by Theodore Roosevelt, along with pots made by Maria Martinez, American Indian blankets and serapes, and Seton's classical music records. A major showing of Seton's work is planned for 2010 at the Palace of the Governors.

Seton Gallery will open onto a trail leading up to the castle site. Of the remaining walls, the academy plans to preserve and strengthen the west and south facades that will be woven into meditative gardens, with markers showing the castle's former footprint.

Just as Seton Castle was a center for learning and living-room gatherings of more than a hundred people, the new 14,000-square- foot center will have rooms and gardens for intimate, contemplative discussions, central to the academy's work, as well as a Great Room for occasional group gatherings. On the second floor, a circular adobe meditation room is under construction.

The "green" center is being built into a hillside, keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Solar arrays and geothermal wells will also allow the academy to sell electricity back to the grid. Rooftop rainwater will be collected and stored in four, 10,000-gallon underground tanks.

While the castle was built from stone quarried on-site, the center's walls are being constructed out of recycled plastic that's been compressed and filled with concrete.

Standing just beyond the chain-link fence wrapped around Seton Castle recently, Stern mourned its destruction and looked towards the land's future. The academy should be completed by October 2009, he said.

"It was a great loss," Stern said as he looked at a ceramic mural of a peacock embedded in the charred castle wall. "And the new building is going to be fabulous. Both are true."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

TermitePrevent: Woodcraft Environmental Renaissance

TermitePrevent: Woodcraft Environmental Renaissance: "Sunday, August 10, 2008
Woodcraft Environmental Renaissance

Why is the rabbit unafraid? Because he's smarter than the panther. - The Edge (film)

Woodcraft is the art of carving or fashioning objects from wood. It is also defined as the dexterity and experience in matters relating to the woods, such as hunting, fishing, camping or simply surviving in the wild by staying one step ahead of the panther. For thousands of years, human beings have survived only because they were able to adapt and obtain their basic necessities from their surrounding habitat, usually employing little more technology than their own hands."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dispatches from No. 3 Equity Court

From Roger Curry's Blog... Here's a link to the full post and his full blog.

I am a common sort of guy. I drink a little beer, but only when it is extremely, extremely cold. I drink wine to impress women. Otherwise, I consider it a shame that some idiot let bacteria screw up the grape juice. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a drink of wine, so perhaps my cynicism belies impressing women these days. The first thing I think of when the term “art” is used is the something-or-other-on-canvas painting. I like Norman Rockwell, particularly a painting called “The Scoutmaster.” It’s realistic (and I’m sure there’s a “Realist” view of painting) and it reminds me of stuff I’ve done. It brings a tear to the eye, and I can smell the “woodsmoke at twilight.” (Kipling) Other stuff, I’m not always so impressed. Let’s see: Monet should have stopped at WalMart and gotten some glasses, then his paintings might not have been so fuzzy. (Yeah, I know, “Impressionism,” but I Just Don’t Get It.) Ernest Thompson Seton, gruesome stuff, but again, realism. TR loved him, but he wasn’t a noted art enthusiast, either. Maxfield Parrish, too cute but, OK, it is a nice shade of blue. Jackson Pollock, if there’s something to understand there, damfino what it is. M. C. Escher, that guy must have been abused as a youth by a dysphoric architect. The stuff by amateurs who know how to draw & paint some looks fundamentally OK to me – I used to share an office with some guys, one of whom had this big (4 foot x 5 foot) acrylic painting of a sort of post-apocalyptic distant city skyline in browns and oranges that just fascinated me. I’m sure someone who “knows art” would say that it’s totally prosaic. Who’s right? I like it. It gets me thinking a little. It’s a starting point for thoughts with misty edges that make me uneasy which feels like a stretching thing that I need to do mentally. Anyway, somehow that painting ended up over at the County Clerk’s Office, and I don’t know how others react to it these days. I keep seeing ads in various catalogs and magazines (Smithsonian, National Geographic, Sojourner, even Popular Mechanics) for prints of stuff by Thomas Kinkade. His paintings are either quasi-religioius (images of the Little Church in the Valley) or the equivalent (small town scenes from the 1960's or before) and he does something that seems to play with light in a pleasant way. I’m betting that most Artistic Folks think he’s a commercial hack, but I could be wrong. I like his stuff, it prompts me to feel good. There’s a strange painter from around 1500 who fascinates me, Hieronymus Bosch - Not because of the color or shapes, this guy was so far into symbolism that even the culturally clueless such as this ignorant scribe have an even chance of thinking of some plausible explanation for his images – maybe the wrong one, but plausible, and Bosch isn’t around to give rebuttal testimony. I googled “modern art” and got a long list of artists (mostly painters) I’d never heard of or, if I’d heard of them, it wasn’t about their art. Matisse, there was an odd sci-fi story themed on his painting eyes on poker chips which also involved a beer tap in a prosthetic arm, and I doubt any of that comes from real life. Dali had a helluva moustache, that’s the sort of irrelevant things I remember.,,,

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Lobo The Wolf Who Changed America to Air November 23 on PBS

The Public Broadcasting Service's Nature series will air its version of the film Lobo, The Wolf Who Changed America on November 23. Check local listings as the time nears.

This film unleashed an enormous renewal of interest in Seton when it aired in the UK earlier this year and I would expect something similar, perhaps much greater, when it airs in the U.S.