Sunday, June 23, 2024
June 23, 2024

Benson collects Order of Canada medal

Susan Benson was named a Member of the Order of Canada (OC) in June of 2019 for her contributions to Canadian theatre as a set and costume designer. 

But due to an interruption in the normal OC induction schedule caused by the Covid pandemic, it wasn’t until last week that the Salt Spring Island resident was able to receive her medal from Governor General of Canada Mary Simon. That took place during a Feb. 22 ceremony honouring 60 inductees at historic Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

“Susan Benson’s infinite scope of imagination has dazzled theatre audiences worldwide,” states Governor General of Canada OC material. “The celebrated designs of this leading set and costume designer have been featured, remounted and recreated by major theatre, dance and opera companies around the world. Following her illustrious 35-year career with the Stratford Festival, she became a devoted teacher and mentor to the next generation of designers in the Canadian theatre community. In retirement on Salt Spring Island, she has renewed her passion for painting and successfully exhibits her inspiring artwork.”

“Over my 50-year career I have been lucky to receive many awards and to have many notable experiences in Canadian theatre and international theatre,” said Benson. “But receiving the Order of Canada has been a high point. I am so grateful to my Salt Spring friends who encouraged and persuaded me to get over my reluctance to travel.”

The ceremony was held in the Rideau Hall ballroom, and a tour of Rideau Hall, which houses a collection of Canadian art and a library containing editions of all Governor-General’s Literary Award-winning books, was part of the events. Each OC winner also received a specially designed cover as part of the award, Benson said.

Inductees came from a broad range of fields. 

“Many were from the medical profession involved in different aspects of health care and research,” said Benson, “and then there was James Cameron, the director of Titanic, as well as a composer of opera, a painter, musicians and philanthropists. I was especially proud of the women nominated, including the first woman pilot hired by Air Canada who also was the first woman to pilot a jumbo jet — Judy Cameron.”

“This experience is one which I will not forget and it would make anyone proud to be a Canadian,” she said.

Benson was nominated for the Order of Canada honour by Donald Stuart, a fellow member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. It was supported by Karen Kain, a former prima ballerina and artistic director emerita of the National Ballet of Canada; Veronica Tennant, the filmmaker, director and former principal dancer of the National Ballet of Canada; and Martha Henry, the acclaimed actor, director and 57-year veteran of the Stratford Festival.

Since retiring to Salt Spring Island in 2014 with husband Michael Whitfield, the renowned theatre lighting designer, Benson has shown mostly new artwork in both solo and group exhibitions. A few of those were Upstage Centre: Susan Benson – 50 Years of Theatre Design, held in conjunction with Portrait of an Island as the Easter Art Show in 2018; Collaborations, shown at ArtSpring in the fall of 2020; and a Shakespeare-inspired Artcraft Showcase exhibit called “We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On” in summer of 2022. 

Known for teaching and promoting young theatre designers throughout her long career, Benson has continued to support local emerging artists with the Susan Benson Fund for Visual Artists, established in 2022 and administered through Salt Spring Arts.

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