Russian icon museum growing

By Pamela H. Sacks



The Museum of Russian Icons has proved to be a popular place.

The museum opened in October 2006 in a retrofitted building on the town green in Clinton. Now, a 3,000-square-foot addition is under construction.

The expansion is occurring at a time when many museums are struggling to attract more visitors. Even founder Gordon B. Lankton is surprised at his institution’s appeal. The museum had 4,000 visitors in 2007 and is on track to host 5,000 this year, according to curator and CEO Kent dur Russell.

“I never would have predicted it,” Lankton said the other day. “Very few people who come to the museum have ever seen an icon. Their mouths drop open when they walk in the door because they’re so unique.”

Lankton has arranged to borrow 25 icons from the Tretyakov Gallery, a state museum in Moscow that is considered to be the best in Russia. The icons, dating from the 15th century to the 19th century, will be the centerpiece of an exhibition that will inaugurate the new wing, which is scheduled to open in October.

This is the first time the Tretyakov has loaned icons to an American institution, Lankton said.

“This is a historic occasion for the U.S. and Russian cultural relations at a time when understanding and collaboration are more important than ever,” he said.

Lankton is the founder and chairman of the board of Nypro Inc., an international precision injection molding manufacturer with headquarters in Clinton. As Lankton built the business, he often traveled to Russia, where Nypro has a plant. He found the Russians fascinating and began collecting the richly detailed religious images that are now featured in the museum.

The museum has attracted large numbers of Russians who are living in the Boston and Worcester areas, Lankton said, as well as people who have adopted Russian children and want to acquaint them with their native culture. Additionally, many Russian college students spend time in the United States. In the last several weeks, the museum has hosted one group of students visiting from Moscow University and another spending time at Northeastern University.

The museum’s staff has introduced workshops and concerts that have drawn people from across the region. The workshops that provide instruction in a gold leaf process often used in icons have proved so popular that the museum now has a waiting list to get into a class, Russell said.

The new wing will provide space for the programs; it will not be used to expand the museum’s permanent display. The museum owns 350 icons and rotates the collection, exhibiting 130 at a time.

“I am a believer in the small museum,” Lankton said. “I do a lot of the tours, and I have found that a one-hour tour is just right. We have audio throughout the building. Visitors want time to reflect and go back and think about things.”

Nonetheless, Lankton continues to collect icons in what has become a hot market as wealthy Russians pay huge sums to snap up the works of art.

“In Russia, there’s a movement to buy the old Russian art,” Lankton said. “What I bought for $1,000 or $2,000 in the early 1990s in now worth $20,000. I would not have this collection if I hadn’t done it when I did it.”