Jean Seth, the founder of the first art gallery on Canyon Road, died Saturday, Jan. 19, at her home in Santa Fe.
Her father, Allan MacGillivray, and his three brothers had come from Scotland to raise sheep in New Mexico when it was still a territory. The family owned ranches in Magdalena and the Estancia Valley and a farm in the Las Animas Valley of Colorado. Before Jean Seth was born on July 22, 1922, her father died. Her mother, Della Comer Grandella MacGillivray, raised her and her brothers Allan, William (Bill) and Finlay alone. The family moved to Santa Fe when Jean Seth was six, and she attended the public schools here.
After graduating from Santa Fe High School, she attended Mills College in California for two years on a scholarship. All her brothers also attended college; later, Bill MacGillivray worked at First National Bank of Santa Fe, Allan MacGillivray for Phillips Petroleum Co., and Finlay MacGillivray managed the New Mexico State Fair under four governors.
After college, Jean Seth worked for the FBI in New York, a job she loved. She was in charge of paying the agents, who often showed up in their disguises.
Returning to Santa Fe, she worked for Tony Taylor, who owned the Old Mexico Shop. She became reacquainted with Oliver Seth, a Santa Fe High graduate seven years her senior. He had returned from World War II, having served in the Battle of the Bulge, and the Normandy invasion. Oliver Seth’s father was J.O. Seth, the lawyer who founded the Seth Montgomery law firm, and often traveled the state on the narrow gauge railroad to visit his clients. Oliver Seth was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, with a law degree from Yale. After visiting the Gallup Indian Ceremonial and many other Native dances while courting, the couple were married at the First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe and honeymooned in Yellowstone National Park.
Oliver Seth was an attorney at the Seth Montgomery firm. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, where he served as a federal judge for 34 years. He died in 1996.
Jean Seth started the first art gallery on Canyon Road in 1967, at a time when the street had only a few artist studios. She gave many young artists a start in their careers, including Ramon Kelley, Dan Bodelson, Ben Ortega, Bill Berra and Valerie Graves. One of her goals was to offer beginning collectors fine art at affordable prices, although she also carried works by Western artist Charles Marion Russell and Georgia O’Keeffe.
“I have a good eye,” she once said. “If I like it, other people seem to like it too.”
Bodelson said Tuesday that Jean Seth had given him his first gallery show. She was “always happy and so supportive of the arts,” he said. “She was there when my [painting] career started. She helped a lot of us. She was so enthusiastic and knew so many people.”
Becoming recognized as an artist is intimidating, he added. “But she made it easy. She had this way that made you feel comfortable. She gave good advice. I’ll never forget that.”
Jean Seth served as the first president of the Santa Fe Opera Guild, as well as on the boards of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Northern Arizona University Museum, the Women’s Board of the Museum of New Mexico and the advisory board for the Smithsonian National Museum of Art.
She loved car trips, and often traveled to the Hopi Mesas, as well as to the Grand Canyon, the California coast and to see the autumn leaves in Vermont. Golf, bridge and Sunday drives were favorite pastimes. She often entertained at the family home on Tano Road.
She is survived by daughter Sandra Seth and partner Valerie Graves, daughter Laurel Seth and partner Steve McDowell, and many nieces and nephews.
In an interview in 2007, when she was named a Santa Fe Living Treasure, Jean Seth said friends were the key to a happy life. “I love people and I love my family, that’s it,” she said.
Laurel Seth said that her mother enjoyed putting people together in both her personal and professional lives. “She loved entertaining on any level,” she explained. “She liked to put people with paintings and artists with people,” an experience the parties frequently found joyous. “People still remember paintings they got from mother. The whole process was fun,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said Tuesday that he met Jean Seth in 1977, when he clerked for her husband on the Court of Appeals. “The Seth law clerks over the years were family, due, I’m sure, to Jean’s warmth and generosity. She was one of the leading ladies of Santa Fe, involved in the arts and culture of the community, and she liked to include her family of clerks along with her own wonderful daughters who have continued in her tradition.”
After her husband died, Udall added, “Jean remained close to the judiciary — most notably entertaining Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Santa Fe every summer when she came for the opera. [My wife] Jill and I were so grateful for her friendship and will miss her.”
Funeral services are planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the First Presbyterian Church, followed by a reception at La Fonda.
Reporter Anne Constable contributed to this story.