One other note: I havent been able to install the GTK runtime environment. I have been having a mess of dll conflicts with other files on my system path. I havent seen any advice on the web that would solve this problem. Can anyone point me in the right direction? The best advice I have seen is to specify a GTK_PATH environment variable, which should be searched for resources before defaulting to the PATH variable. I did this for both the system and user, but I am still getting the same conflicts. This concerns the quickstart advice for windows users on the matplotlib website. (One site even suggested deleting the conflicting dll's from the path in order to not block the GTK resources. Yikes.)
It turns out that temporarily renaming conflicting dll that lives in the windows/system32 folder was the right thing to do. Renaming that dll to dll.off prevents it from being accessed and GTK works.
Now I just have to wait for the offending program to complain. Then, the dll that I renamed can be moved to the folder containing the .exe file. The final step is to contact the offending software company and complain about their 3rd party dll's in the system32 folder.
The guy who takes care of the windows port of GTK tells me that these dll conflicts are very common. It might be worth discussing on the matplotlib windows quickstart section.