Celebrating 16 Years as Barrington’s Signature Magazine

A Conversation with Barbara Benson

Barbara Benson on Grassy Lake Trail

Edited By Lisa Stamos

What was it like working at The Metropolitan Museum of Art?

“I worked in the Costume Institute of The Met. It was an exciting time. The Met was having its Centennial and there were special events in every department. Thomas Hoving was the director and taking the museum in new directions, like ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions. But it was still very much the bastion of old New York money and society, and the Costume Institute was largely supported by the fashion industry. Many notables crossed our threshold.”

Where does your love of history come from?

“When I wrote my first Museum Memos column for the [Barrington] Courier, on April 10, 1980, it began: ‘When I was growing up, I believed that I walked with history. As a child in England, I lived daily with the castles, the cathedrals, and thatched roof cottages that spelled a thousand years of an evolving people. Sometimes it was just cold stone that recorded the glorious, the ordinary, or the ignoble life, but often there was more: portraits, diaries, personal mementoes, and family documents that would convey the essence of a personality across the centuries.

Through the years, my scenario has changed, and in the places where I now live and work, the history of settlement in our form of civilization is barely 150 years old, for it is only those few years, which divide us from the time when the Indian (sic) lived with his own traditions in our Barrington area. Perhaps as much change is compressed into those 150 years, as rolled across Europe in a thousand years.’

And so, history is just a part of me. My school leaving degrees in England (alongside my ballet studies) were in British History and Constitution. I have read newspapers from my earliest years, and I have vivid memories of newspaper headlines at the end of World War II. I still have a newspaper from the Queen’s Coronation Day [June 2, 1953], which was incidentally, the first time I watched television.”

You’ve lived on two different continents in two different countries. What are your favorite things about each?

“I do like some of the more civilized traditions of Europe, as for instance, a time out during the day or early evening for refreshment and conversation, or family meals where one stayed at the table until the meal was over. (Or, please may I be excused!) I still find a telephone call using my first name by someone I don’t know very disconcerting. But that maybe age on both sides of “the pond”.

Undoubtedly the vitality of America was what first appealed to me. My first experience of America was Manhattan. Actually, I kept a diary (writing again) and always wrote about something. Yes indeed, the American dream, if one worked honestly and hard. I love the vastness and variety of the landscape, and the wild creatures that inhabit wild places. If life did not keep me here, I would live on a mountainside in Montana.”