Unique New England Museums:  Museum of Russian Icons

By Carla Charter

CLINTON, MA.- The Museum of Russian Icons opened in 2006. The museum though had it’s beginnings  with the collection of Gordon Lankton, President of Nypro headquarters in Clinton began collecting Religious Icons in 1992.

Kent dur Russell, Curator and CEO of the museum explained that  “Icons are painted wood and metal panels with holy images, painted on wood or metal panels typically 10×12 inches.  Other larger icons built for churches are larger, 4 x 5 feet. The icons depict Mary and Jesus as well as a variety of Saints and other biblical stories. They are usually commissioned from Monks. They are painted in gold, some in silver and gold and some have bejeweled covers. They are holy images. Orthodox Christians use them in prayer. They are very delicate and very personal.

“The company had a factory in Moscow and Lankton would visit regularly,” Russell explained.  ” When he visited Russia, he would see the icons, which are ubiquitous in Russia. He became fascinated by icons and bought his first one at a market.”

Currently the museum, which houses his collection has 1,000 Icons.  “ We have the largest collection of Russian icons outside of Russia. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has 17 Russian Icons, The Louvre in Paris has 43 Russian Icons, we have 1000. If you are into Russian Icons you would go to Clinton and then to Russia.”

The oldest icon we have is from 1425. The oldest metal icon is from the Fourth century. The metal icon is from the Byzantium Roman era from Constantinople which was the birthplace of the icons. They are ne of the earliest forms of panel paintings done.

Russell said the paintings on the panels often look like the early Italian paintings of the Madonna but the icons at the museum actually pre-date the Renaissance.  The Renaissance paintings of the Madonna are actually based on icons.  They were the origin of European paintings.”

“ Icons represent the best of Russian culture and their love for storytelling and their deep roots of Orthodox Christianity. Icons are very accessible art because they tell a story.  They are a very engaging pieces of art.” Russell said.

The icons are still very popular in Russia. “Most Christian homes in Russia have a cluster of icons. There are 4 or 5 icons where they light a candle and pray. It is called ‘the beautiful corner.’” Icons are a traditional wedding present and are collected by wealthy people, including Vladimir Putin. When you enter most museums in Russia the first thing you see is their icons.” Russell continued.

The museum also has a collection of over 200 nesting dolls from the late 19th century to the present. The nesting dolls originated in Japan so we also have Japanese, Korean, Indian and Chinese as well as Russian nesting dolls. We tell the history of nesting dolls. He said they also have political nesting dolls of Vladimir Putin and Former President Obama When you open them the dolls inside are their predecessors. The political dolls are from the 1970’s, traditionally nesting dolls were toys.” said Russell

Current exhibitions at the museum include a display of Ukrainian sacred cloths called Rushynyks which are a long rectangular cloth, typically made from linen or hemp, which is woven in one solid piece and adorned with bright intricate patterns. The cloth has many uses including decorating icon corners in homes. This exhibit is open until June 3.

An upcoming exhibit at the museum beginning June 21at is entitled Icons of the Hellenic World will highlight Greek Icons.  Greek Icons came from Byzantium Orthodox Christians so the icons were earlier than Russian icons, according to Russell.

More information on the Museum of Russian Icons can be found at http://www.museumofrussianicons.org/