Dee (Beulah) Seton Barber

Seton, born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was adopted at birth by Ernest Thompson Seton and Julia Moss Seton in June 1938. On Ernest’s birthday in August, she was baptized by Santa Clara Pueblo Medicine Man, Juan Gonzales in the kiva in Seton Village, naming her Kunya Tsawa Tse (meaning Turquoise, Blue, Yellow) and the Pueblo children named her Payo Pai (Summer Flower). 

Beulah accompanied her parents on the lecture circuit across the US and into Mexico performing dances from First Nations cultures until her father’s death in 1946. One of her nannies on their travels was Santa Clara Pueblo’s Pablita Velarde, who later became a world-renown artist.  

She attended Seton Village High School and earned credits with the American School in Chicago but did not graduate. Like her parents, she was a voracious reader and eager to absorb knowledge through experience.

Her dream was to be a ballet dancer and as a child studied under Jacques Cartier, the renown “Fire Dancer Extraordinaire” and designer. A multi-faceted individual, she learned to write Hebrew and play the mandolin. She was self-taught bookkeeper, writer, literary agent, and a gifted designer and hobbyist. She loved making handicrafts –everything from soft toys, clothes, and religious ornaments to miniature doll houses and furniture. Her other hobbies included writing, entertaining, cooking for large crowds, and baking. Although she wrote volumes of poetry, some short stories, and a novel, she never published any of the work.

She was well known in Santa Fe for her volunteer spirit. She sewed costumes, wrote scripts, and directed plays for the local community theatre, earning her a coveted life membership. She was the president and bookkeeper for the local synagogue’s Sisterhood and was awarded Congregant of the Year. She was recognized for her Torah mantle designs and embroidery by the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework. Even with these accolades, she worked behind the scenes and did not like being in the spotlight.

Dee was married for less than two years to Jack Mullen and in 1958 she married Robert Dale Barber, sharing the rest of her life with him. For their tenth wedding anniversary, her mother Julia gifted the couple the mansion called Seton Castle, where they raised four children and a menagerie of pets.  Animals included a skunk, raccoon, various species of monkeys (before they were banned as pets in the US), guinea pigs and hamsters, and the more common string of dogs and cats. If they found a distressed dog, they would adopt it.

In 1968 Dee was suddenly burdened with carrying on her father’s legacy when Julia suffered a paralyzing stroke. Now she was not only keeper of Seton Castle, a National Historic Landmark and open to the public, but took on negotiations with the Boy Scouts of America to finish the transfer of Seton’s collections from Santa Fe to the Philmont Scout Ranch, publishing permissions, an exhibition of Seton’s works in Japan honoring the US bicentennial in 1977, and extensive world-wide correspondence.

The early 1990s saw a growing international interest in Woodcraft. Visitors from the Czech Republic, Canada, and England went to Santa Fe. Dee began updating the Birch Bark Roll with the help of practicing Woodcrafters, poets, writers, and artists, through the newsletter “Greenleaves”, compiled and edited by Dee. In 1993, the Ernest Thompson Seton Foundation was formed to raise funds for restoring Seton Castle, which had fallen into disrepair. Dee served as advisor. When the name changed to the Ernest Thompson Seton Institute, she became Secretary. The organization disbanded in 1996, but Dee remained in close contact with the international groups, traveling to Europe and Canada.

Dee’s health deteriorated from a lifetime of smoking cigarettes and she was no longer able to live in Santa Fe. She tearfully closed Seton Castle in 1998. The Barbers traveled in an RV with their three dogs through the southeastern US for three years before settling in Bristol, Tennessee, where Dee died in 2006.

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