Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Jean Seth

Jean Seth

Honored June, 2007







Jean Seth

"Pioneer" is a word often used to describe Jean Seth, and the word fits her well. Indeed, her father was a pioneer in the fullest sense of the word, for as a young man in 1899 he sailed with four brothers from Scotland to America, where they took up sheep farming in New Mexico. He married and started a family, but just before Jean was born, he died in an accident. The family moved to Albuquer-que and then Santa Fe, where Jean and her older brothers grew up.

"I was the busiest kid in Santa Fe," Jean recalled later, "Fencing, riding, dancing and piano lessons. My mother wanted me to be a lady, and a darling ballet dancer. But I was a tomboy." Many of her friends were children of artists, and she came to know that world well. It was formative in shaping the course of her life.

After college she lived two years in New York City during World War II, but then returned home. In 1946 she married Oliver Seth, a rising young lawyer. With their two daughters the couple loved to travel through Indian land, where they befriended many artists and began collecting baskets, paintings and other art. Jean soon noticed that "what I liked, other people liked." She called it "my one gift."


When her husband became a federal judge in 1962, he frequently had to travel. Although Jean already was committed to numerous causes--the Santa Fe Opera, the Museum of New Mexico and the Animal Shelter, among others--Oliver suggested she open an art gallery to help consume her vast energy. That is what she did, and in a spacious adobe house numbered 710, she "pioneered" the first gallery in what has now become the teeming Canyon Road district.

In the 20-plus years she ran it before stepping down in 1985, the Seth Gallery became both a landmark and a legend. Using her gifted eye, Jean selected "what she liked" from unknown artists, and in so doing propelled them to fame, wealth and esteem. She also represented several of the most revered masters in Western and New Mexico history, and championed all kinds of art--Indian, contemporary, sculpture, wood carving. Her Friday-night openings were huge events, the biggest in town, drawing as many as 1,000 people. Seldom has anyone given so much to art--and to Santa Fe.


Story by Richard McCord

Photo © 2007 Steve Northup