'Treasures from Moscow'
at Clinton's Museum of Russian Icons
Museum of Russian Icons founder Gordon Lankton, right, and Kent dur Russell curator and CEO of the museum stand in the museum this week as a major international show is on the verge of opening.
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Like Saint Nicholas the Miracle Worker depicted in a 16th century icon, Gordon B. Lankton has once again made the improbable happen by bringing some of Russia's rarest art treasures to the Museum of Russian Icons he founded in Clinton.
The former president of plastics manufacturer Nypro, he recently opened a spectacular exhibition of 37 extremely rare paintings and artifacts from the Andrey Rublev Museum located in a historic monastery in Moscow.
"This was a tough project. But it was worth it," Lankton said Oct. 22 during the exhibit's opening. "I do love these icons because I've collected them for 21 years."
Bringing works from the Rublev Museum to the U.S. where they've never been shown represents a major coup for Lankton.
At the opening ceremony, he told guests the Rublev Museum, set inside the Spaso-Andronikov Monastery, is named after Rublev (circa 1360-1430) who is considered the greatest medieval Russian painter of icons and frescos and one of very few artists whose specific works can be identified.
"I'm sure this is the best icon collection shown in the U.S.," said Lankton.
Visitors will see unusually large icons made in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries portraying sacred images which signify to believers the presence of God.
Painted in egg tempera on wood, the images of saints, holy men, the Madonna and Christ portray biblical events, acts of devotion and terrifying scenes of hell.
As muted sunlight streamed through the arched windows of the new wing, the gold-saturated icons seemed aglow with the piety of anonymous monks who "wrote" them centuries ago. Russians often say artists "write" icons because the Russian word "pisat" means both to write and paint. And since icons are considered to be the Gospels in paint, in translation, to "write" icons is considered more accurate than to "paint" them.
In one of the most venerated icons of Saint Nicholas, a gold halo shines around the head of the bearded "Miracle Worker" whose life is depicted in eight scenes bordering the central image.
Commemorating an actual event, "Renovation of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem" details a complex story of the Fall of Man, their Descent into Hell and the Passion of the Savior and his Resurrection in four horizontal scenes.
Two weeping angels float above Christ crucified on a cross attended by his mother and Mary Magdalene in a sharply expressive icon.
Startling in its simplicity, a mid-16th century icon shows "Mother of God" pressing her cheek to the infant Jesus with measureless tenderness.
"They're spectacularly beautiful," said Lankton, walking through the new gallery. "Sometimes I wonder how can I be so lucky to have all this art in this museum."
Trained as an engineer, Lankton bought his first icon for $25 in 1989 in a Moscow flea market. He has since acquired what he believes to be the largest private collection in North America and one that exceeds most museum collections.
"I'm Protestant. I go to church every Sunday but I didn't begin reading the Bible until I began collecting," he said. "I grew fascinated by the stories told on icons."
Stressing "I'm a plastics engineer, not a specialist in art," Lankton attributed his love of icons to a deep respect for the courage of ordinary Russians who suffered tremendously during World War II. As he learned more about icons, he came to admire their faith which has survived centuries of tsarist and communist oppression.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to Russians. I've traveled around the world and been to Russia 20 times. Russians are the most like us. When you're with Russians, you have fun. Now I have no desire to go anywhere but Russia," he said.
Making its only U.S. stop in Clinton, the exhibit will run through July 25 and then return to Moscow.
Lankton told visitors at the opening that he had to build his own museum after his wife Janet complained his then collection of about 100 icons was taking over their house.
Situated between Clinton's downtown common and Nypro's headquarters, the museum holds the more than 300 icons Lankton has acquired over the last two decades.
Born in Peoria, Ill., he spent more than 45 years investing the same energy into his business as now puts into collecting.
Since buying into Nypro around 1960, he has expanded it from a small business with 20 workers into a $1.2 billion a year international plastics industry with 25,000 employees in 16 countries.
Like his business, he has expanded the museum since opening it in 2006 in a 175-year-old brick building in downtown Clinton.
In 2009, the museum doubled in size with a new second-floor gallery, auditorium, library and offices, designed by architect David Durrant from the neighboring town of Harvard.
The icons from the Rublev Museum are now displayed in the recently completed $1 million West Gallery, a spacious, high-ceilinged room also designed by Durrant.
Facing a deadline, Durrant joined an adjacent building containing a former courthouse and jail to the museum. To finish that job, builders Ted and Tim Smith had to remove giant stones which were part of the foundation of the old jail.
Durrant's design has given the three galleries the meditative atmosphere of a modern-day monastery by maintaining antique glass from the former buildings and installing glare-reducing screens and state-of-the art lighting. Solar panels on the roof provide a third of the museum's electricity and a new roof garden provides additional green energy and an airy place to relax.
Now 79, Lankton said he's working with lawyers to establish a "100-year plan" to ensure the museum's future in Clinton.
He attributed his success negotiating a ground-breaking loan of 16 icons from the world famous State Tretyakov Gallery in 2006 and the current show to lessons he learned in 1957 during a 14,000 mile motorcycle trip from Germany, where he'd been stationed in the U.S. Army, across Asia and into Japan and the Philippines.
"My secret is I spent a year with all elements of society. I learned to be an internationalist who knew how to get along in the world. You can't be arrogant. You have to show a sincere interest in others. I lived on $5 a day and developed have a great admiration for the downtrodden," he said.
Despite remarkable accomplishments in business and art, Lankton repeatedly cited contributions from Durrant, CEO and museum curator Kent dur Russell and "a team effort" for the museum's success.
Asked if he might be like the anonymous monks who created glorious icons but never signed their work, he shook his head and smiled.
"It just doesn't enter my mind," said Lankton. "I'm pleased we're able to do it."
WHAT: The Museum of Russian Icons, 203 Union St., Clinton
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday with tours at noon.
ADMISSION: $5 and $4 for tour participants and groups. Seniors may make a voluntary donation. Students and children under 16 are admitted free.
TOUR: A free audio tour of the museum collection narrated by Gordon Lankton is available. The museum is wheelchair accessible.
INFO: Call 978-598-5000, www.museumofrussianicons.com
Source: Dedham Transcript