Story Behind More Beautiful and Amazing

David L. Witt, Seton Legacy Project Curator, shares the story behind the Academy’s upcoming art opening exhibition and annual celebration of Ernest Thompson Seton’s birthday, More Beautiful and Amazing: Art Inspired by Ernest Thompson Seton. The exhibition highlights works by fourteen contemporary artists inspired by Seton’s nature writing. Join us on Sunday, August 11th at 2pm for More Beautiful and Amazing: Art Inspired by Ernest Thompson Seton.

“Some day I shall write a history of man as seen by the animals.”

So wrote Ernest Thompson Seton in 1925. He never got around to doing that particular project. But his observations on the relations of humans and wildlife conveyed a great deal about both. Some of what he found was heartbreaking while at other times sublime. Beautiful and horrific exist in this world, if not in equal measure, then in a shifting dynamic of life and death, triumph and tragedy. The animals’ history of us, as interpreted by Seton, would contrast our high crimes with moments of deep understanding, perhaps even, on our part, at our best, empathy.

Seton addressed these topics throughout many of his forty books and hundreds of magazine and journal articles. Not infrequently, he illustrated his ideas and stories with his own paintings and drawings. Much of that writing is as relevant today as when he put pen to paper going back way more than a century from our time, His insights into animal behavior and challenges to the survival of the natural world are often startling in their contemporary feel.

This led me to create a series of exhibitions combining the best of Seton’s writing with some stellar work by today’s artists working in a variety of mediums. The first of these, opening last summer, brought a contemporary visual approach to Seton’s tragic 1894 story of Lobo, a wolf he hunted, but one that changed him forever. Among these changes was his becoming a spokesperson on behalf of those creatures so desperately in need of an advocate.

In this summer’s offering at the Academy’s Seton Gallery, I asked fourteen artists to work with me to illustrate a selection of twenty-three Seton quotes about nature. In some cases, the artwork was created specifically for this show. In others, older pieces by the artists have been repurposed to illustrate Seton’s concepts. I chose examples of Seton writing created between 1893 and 1940.

This is no more than a sampling of Seton’s vast output, but in viewing the art and reading the paired text labels on the wall, you will get an idea of his interests and concerns. He made ecological observations of foxes and deer. He warned us that nature can be cruel. He marveled at the sheer beauty of it all. And he emphasized the nobility of the very concept of nature.

I hope you will consider visiting our new exhibition, “More Beautiful and Amazing” to experience the interaction of Seton and a group of artists he never knew, but I am sure would have admired.

Featured image: White-winged Crossbills (females) oil on Academy board 1883, Academy for the Love of Learning, Credit James Hart