The Museum of Russian Icons is a non-profit art museum located in Clinton, Massachusetts, in the United States. The collection includes more than 700 Russian icons and related artifacts, making it one of the largest private collections of Russian icons outside of Russia and the largest in North America. The icons in the collection range in date from the 15th century through to the present and covers almost the entire range of Russian icon images, symbols, and forms.
The Museum of Russian Icons was founded in 2006 as a nonprofit educational institution by Massachusetts art collector and industrialist Gordon B. Lankton. Including more than 500 Russian icons and artifacts, the collection is the largest of its kind in North America, and one of the largest private collections outside Russia. Spanning six centuries, the collection includes important historical paintings dating from the earliest periods of icon “writing” to the present
The Museum collection includes more than 1,000 Russian icons and related artifacts. The icons range in date from 1450 to the present day, and are installed in thematic groupings rather than chronological order. The Museum is particularly proud to display extremely rare Royal Doors that once led to the High Altar of an Orthodox Church in Russia and can be traced back to the 17th century. The Royal Doors have recently been added to the Museum’s collection and are considered to be the “finest pair in the United States.”
The Museum organizes its own exhibitions from the permanent collection and also hosts visiting exhibitions from other museums and collections. In 2008 and 2010, respectively the Museum co-organized exhibitions of icons from the Tretyakov Gallery and the Andrei Rublev Museum of Early Russian Art and Culture. Because of an embargo of art loans from Russia to the U.S., ongoing since 2011, the Museum has relied on exhibitions originating in the United States.
The Museum began as the private collection of Gordon B. Lankton, a plastics engineer and former chairman and CEO of Nypro, Inc., a precision injection molding company now owned by Jabil Circuit. Lankton has been an avid traveler since he was stationed in Germany when he was in the Army. As outlined in his book The Long Way Home, Lankton took a motorcycle trip around the world in 1956 and 1957, visiting (in chronological order), Germany, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, and Japan. According to Lankton, he had wanted to visit Russia but was not allowed to do so during the Cold War. In 1989, Lankton first traveled to Russia to open a Nypro factory there. On that visit, he learned about iconographer Alyona Knyazeva and her icon school. After meeting Knyazeva and learning more about icons, Lankton began his collection, starting with a small, poor quality icon he found at a flea market in the Izmaylovo District of Moscow.
Over the following 30 years, Lankton amassed several hundred icons. He displayed them at his home, at Nypro in a small gallery, and occasionally on loan to other museums, including the Higgins Armory Museum. As the collection grew and response to the informal sharing of his collection proved positive, Lankton decided to open his own museum directly across the street from Nypro. The Museum was incorporated in 2004, and Lankton purchased the building in early 2006. It opened to the public on October 15, 2006. Since then, two major expansion projects have taken place: in 2008, a research library and the South Gallery were added. In 2010, Lankton purchased the building immediately next door to the Museum and undertook a construction project to seamlessly join the two structures. The first phase of this project included the West Gallery and an expanded Museum Shop; the second phase included an expanded lower level with the “Russian Tea Room” and auditorium.
After traveling to Africa, Founder Gordon Lankton has also expanded his collection to include African art. His African art collection is now housed in the Gallery of African Art just a few minutes walk from the Museum of Russian Icons in downtown Clinton, MA. Lankton is also currently making plans to open a small museum in Clinton for his personal toy car collection as well.
The Museum Vision statement: The Museum of Russian Icons enhances relations between Russia and the United States through the medium of art, especially Russian icons.The Museum Mission statement: The Museum of Russian Icons inspires the appreciation and study of Russian culture by collecting and exhibiting icons and related objects; igniting the interest of national and international audiences; and offering interactive educational programs. The Museum serves as a leading center for research and scholarship through the Center for Icon Studies and other institutional collaborations.The Museum is housed in a 150-year-old former mill building. A contemporary, aluminum-clad addition to the mill building accommodating the South Gallery, Library and offices was completed in 2008. The 150-year-old former courthouse and police station with cells adjacent to the mill was acquired in 2010 and renovated to provide additional gallery space, a terrace with a green roof, a tea room, and performance facilities accommodating lectures and concerts.Museum renovations, addition and interiors were designed by David and Pamela Durrant of Durrant Design and implemented by T.H. Smith Building and Remodeling. The interior of the historic structures were gutted, strengthened, re-roofed and refurbished. The Museum’s physical plant is an energy efficient building featuring a 30 kilowatt photovoltaic array and LED lighting systems. The building is super insulated and maintains the appropriate temperature and humidity controls for the icons.Building designer David Durrant stated, “Gordon told us he wanted a facility that would stack up against the great museums of this country, and we believe that is what we have achieved.” The overall appearance of the original building is deceptive. Outside, other than a laser-cut sign identifying the Museum the building restoration maintains the original historic facade with its brick façade and gabled roof. Its presence complements Clinton’s beautiful public common, Central Park. At the rear of the building the south elevation presents a contemporary face with the south-facing window walls featuring a changing LED light show at night.The Museum facility is now 16,000 square feet and comprises gallery spaces, a research library, archive storage, conservation studio, conference room and offices, performance facilities accommodating lectures and concerts, catering kitchen, a tea room, terrace, a green roof, mechanical rooms and rest rooms.Three floors are connected by a custom-designed, sweeping metal and glass stairway that allows visual access from virtually any place in the museum. All levels are also connected by an elevator; the building is totally ADA compliant.