Nancy Elizabeth May de L’Arbre

Date of Birth

November 3, 1923

Date of Death

January 26, 2016

Nancy Elizabeth May de L’Arbre passed away peacefully on January 26, 2016. She was born on November 3, 1923 in Pasadena, California to Ernest Crawford May and Margaret Mortenson May. She was educated at Westridge and Polytechnic Schools in Pasadena before graduating from Katherine Branson School in Ross, California. She obtained her BA in Fine Arts from Mills College and a graduate degree from the California Institute of Fine Arts.

In 1951, she married Albert (Bertie) de L’Arbre d’Estaing with whom she had three fine sons – Charles, Frederick and David. Bertie was the owner of Santa Barbara Travel Bureau and he and Nancy traveled the world together. But, Nancy’s true travel passion was always for the outdoors. She loved to hike and camp and was a life-long member of the Sierra Club. She hiked the Sespe, Santa Paula Gorge, Manzana River, and the Sierras. She was great friends with Dick Smith, Rod Nash and many other Santa Barbara conservationists and outdoorsmen. And Nancy was a committed environmentalist before that term was fashionable. She cleaned birds and beaches in the 1969 Platform A disaster and rafted down the Stanislaus River to protest the building of the New Melones Dam. She cleaned up remote camp sites and packed out trash. She cut and maintained trails in the Santa Barbara backcountry. She was a donor to the Nature Conservancy and keenly aware of the need to protect open space from development.

Nancy was also a passionate artist and was always learning new techniques and mediums. She was an accomplished sketch artist in pencil and her diaries contain both the verbal and visual accounts of her travels. She loved to work with natural materials and cast-offs, which led her on an odyssey across the western United States digging through dumps and searching for artifacts. Her antique bottle collection was inspiring. She could envision art from items that no one else could possibly conceive – carbon battery cores, fish vertebrae, antique square nails, bottle stoppers, pine cones, seed pods, stones and just about anything else one could imagine. She had diamond saws, tumblers, polishers, bellows, wood tools, planes, draw knives, rasps, throw wheels, clay tools, kilns, blow torches, soldering irons, jeweler’s tools, needles and threads, and books on almost every art form that she worked on or was interested in. The depth and breadth of her artistic skills was truly remarkable. Some of her artwork is on permanent display at Mills College.

Nancy was very involved in her community and was a member of the Junior League, attended services at All Saints by the Sea and, later in her life, at the Unitarian Society, where she did the flower arrangements. She was an adamant supporter of Planned Parenthood and women’s rights. She supported several organizations including the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Santa Barbara Historical Society, the Museum of Natural History, and the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and was a devoted member of the Garden Guild. She was also a member of Pearl Chase’s Scorpio Club and was well-known as one of “Pearl’s Girls”.

Above all, Nancy was known for her extraordinary kindness, generosity and her love for her family. She was not only an inspiration for her children but in many respects was a second parent for her grandchildren, to whom she was completely devoted. She supported their educational needs and provided guidance and support whenever and wherever needed. She was always proud of their achievements and understanding of their shortfalls.

She is survived by her sons, Charles (Barbara), Fred (Theresa), and David (Liz), 7 grandchildren, her sister, Virginia, and numerous nieces and nephews. Special thanks to her care-givers, including her grandson, Philippe de L’Arbre, and the staff at Oak Cottage where she lived the last 6 months of her life.

A memorial service and celebration will be held on March 4, 2016 at 10am at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara at 1535 Santa Barbara St.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Santa Barbara Historical Museum, Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, or Planned Parenthood in Nancy’s name.


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