The S.B. Questionnaire: Lynn Brittner

Talking Georgia O’Keeffe, Margaret Mead, and More with the Head of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum

Lynn Brittner at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum

Paul Wellman

Lynn Brittner at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum

When I meet Lynn Brittner, the executive director of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, she’s brimming with excitement about the future of the organization. “The museum has been changing to use more of its collection in storage and work more closely with the community,” she tells me over lunch.

She’s particularly proud of the current exhibit, Sacred Art in the Age of Contact.

Focused on the decades from 1769 to 1824 following the Chumash’s first contact with the Spanish, it brings together for the first time a diverse body of objects from collections around Santa Barbara, many of which have never been on display.

Lynn, who was lured to Santa Barbara after a national search in 2014, once lived in Queens while attending school in Manhattan at the Fashion Institute of Technology. But after wondering to herself what she was doing with her life, she shifted gears and moved to Durango, Colorado, where she studied anthropology and archaeology at Fort Lewis College and became a ranger at Mesa Verde National Park. She recalls going on an archaeological dig early in her studies while wearing clothes fit for New York City. “I got a lot of flack,” says Lynn, but she kept with it. “I loved being outside, and it reshaped my entire career.”

She then moved to Santa Fe, got her master's degree from the University of New Mexico, and helped open the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, whose namesake she had the great fortune of meeting. She eventually returned to the Durango area to help a Native American tribe build the brand-new Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum. Lynn was instrumental in helping the tribe tell their story through the $38 million project, and trained a Ute to be her successor.

After 13 years at that museum — and with her kids having gone off to college — Lynn wanted to try something else, and living in Santa Barbara with her two golden retrievers was enticing. “I love living here,” she says. “I love the ocean.”

Lynn answers the Proust Questionnaire.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

As a young woman growing in up in New York, I struggled to find woman role models. I first started reading Margaret Mead’s books in high school. The Natural History Museum was one of my favorite museums in N.Y., and that was where Margaret Mead had her office. Although I never met her (I did hang out at her office door often), she became somewhat of a role model for me and inspired me to get a degree in anthropology and archaeology. So many women were inspired by her to pursue careers, however, while keeping their identity as mothers. She was such an advocate of woman’s rights, for women around the world.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement, emotionally, are my children — I am so proud of my son and daughter. Physically, it was when I went trekking in the Himalayas to the base of Mount Everest at 19,000 feet. And intellectually, it was working with the board of a Native American museum in Colorado to build a $38 million museum, assisting in telling the story of their tribe.

Who do you most admire?

I have always admired Georgia O’Keeffe, whom I briefly met years ago at her last art opening in Santa Fe. She was in her nineties. Later on, I worked at the O’Keeffe Museum. I’ve even been in her home in Abiquiú, New Mexico, and hiked many of her favorite trails behind Ghost Ranch.

I’m not sure I would have liked her as a person if I’d had the opportunity to really get to know her. However, I certainly did admire her achievements as a pioneer in the art world and her attachment to nature and how she transferred that love of nature onto canvas.

What do you like most about your job?

I like the fact that I work in a place that is considered the heartbeat of our community, past and present. My whole career I’ve mostly worked in museums, sometimes in basements with iron rails over the windows. The Santa Barbara Historical Museum is one of the most beautiful settings ever, not to mention it has one of the most incredible collections. And best of all, Michael Redmon in the library — what a great way to learn about S.B. history!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The feeling I get after a really good yoga class — reminds me that happiness is found in doing and not in possessing.

What is your greatest fear?

I always refer to one of the earlier Star Wars movies when I think of the concept of fear. There was a great line I remembered about fear, said by Yoda: “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.”

What is your greatest extravagance?

Sunday afternoon bubble baths in my jacuzzi with a glass of chardonnay and a stack of Sunset magazines.

What is your current state of mind?

I generally feel a state of well-being from taking care of myself. I eat healthy, I exercise, and, when I do feel stressed, I try to change my state of mind by going to the ocean which immediately calms me.

What is the quality you most like in people?

I most like people who do not take themselves too seriously, and have the ability to laugh.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

People who lack integrity.

What do you most value in friends?

I feel lucky that I have such wonderful, loyal friends that are caring, know how to laugh, and are there for me no matter where they live.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’ve always been a good listener and emotionally open to others.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Really!” Also, on stressful days I murmur to myself, “Mi dios dame paciencia” (“My God, give me patience”!).

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’ve always wanted to do the moonwalk like Michael Jackson.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I get faint at the sight of blood; I might not be the best person to have around if there’s an accident.

Where would you most like to live?

I’ve always lived in beautiful places — Santa Fe, Durango, and now Santa Barbara. I feel so lucky to live here.

What is your most treasured possession?

My heart-rock collection. I started it in New Mexico, then continued in Colorado and now Santa Barbara.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My two golden retrievers are funny almost every day; watching them play in the ocean makes me laugh. Also, I have good friends that can really make me laugh about my everyday life.

What is your motto?

“Actually, I can.”

On what occasion do you lie?

I never lie if I lie it’s a lie that I don’t lie saying I never lie.

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