The largest gallery in the original wing of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art is named after Mary Holton Seaton (1913 – 1989), a native of Manhattan, Kansas. She graduated from Kansas State University in 1933 with a degree in home economics. While at K-State she was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority chapter that her mother, Lillian Beck Holton, helped establish. After graduating, Seaton earned a master of arts degree in home economics from the University of Illinois at Champaign–Urbana in 1934. The title of her thesis was “The Effect of Retrogradation Upon Subsequent Gelation of Wheat Starch.” For a short time she held a position teaching vocational homemaking in Waterville, Kansas.
Seaton began dating Richard M. “R. M.” Seaton in high school and their courtship led to marriage in 1936. Their wedding was in the same house where she was born, 217 N. 14th Street. Governor Alf Landon and Theo Cobb Landon were among those who attended. The Seatons lived in Manhattan until 1947 when Richard purchased the newspaper and a radio station in Coffeyville, Kansas. The couple lived in Paris in 1961 and traveled widely in later years. They collected art by regional and international artists. A portrait of Mary painted in Paris by American expatriate Ione Robinson, a member of avant-garde circles in Mexico and Paris, is in the collection of the museum.
Seaton and her family have many close associations with Kansas State University. Her father, Edwin L. Holton, was dean of education and Holton Hall is named after him. Her husband’s uncle, Roy M. Seaton, was dean of engineering. Seaton Hall is named in his honor. In 1970 Richard Seaton established a scholarship in his wife’s honor for students from Coffeyville Community College based on need. In 1978 Richard and Mary Seaton endowed the R. M. Seaton Professional Journalism Chair, and in 1980 they created an endowment that provided cash prizes to writers of Kansas-related articles for the Kansas Quarterly.
Mary was very involved in the Coffeyville community. Among her activities were the following: member of the First United Methodist Church, United Methodist Women Chapter No. 2, P.E.O. Chapter EZ, Round Table Study Club, Tuesday Book Review Club, American Association of University Women, Pi Beta Phi Sorority, Phi Kappa Phi Academic Honor Society, and a contributor to a history book for the Methodist Church. In addition she chaired a committee to restore the Brown Mansion House. In 1976 the Kansas Press Women honored her as a patron member for “outstanding community service contributions and an interest in journalism and communication.”
The Seatons had four children, Edward L. and Richard H. of Manhattan, Kansas, Frederick David of Winfield, Kansas, and Elizabeth Hall of Eugene, Oregon. Edward became the owner and publisher of the Manhattan Mercury while Richard became a prominent lawyer in Manhattan and the former university attorney for K-State. David was the long-time editor and publisher of the Winfield Daily Courier. Elizabeth G. “Liz” Seaton, David’s daughter and Mary’s granddaughter, joined the Beach Museum of Art as a curator in 2003.
Mary Seaton died on November 6, 1989, while a fundraising campaign for an art museum at K-State was underway led by Ruth Ann Wefald. In honor of his wife, Richard Seaton made a major financial donation in her name to help establish the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art. Subsequently, the Mary Holton Seaton Gallery was named in her honor. As chair of the Art Museum Campaign, R. M.’s leadership inspired others to contribute funds towards the museum. He died in 1997 and both he and Mary are buried in Manhattan’s Sunset Cemetery.