Entertainment » Vol. 4

A Little Bit of the Russian Motherland in Clinton

By Julie Grady

Assorted Russian Icons, photos courtesy of www.museumofrussianicons.org

Assorted Russian Icons, photos courtesy of www.museumofrussianicons.org

Russia isn’t exactly what it used to be. The stereotypes of a harsh climate and even harsher people have melted away with the help of pop culture. Think James Bond flicks with characters like Tatiana Romanova. Despite the heat generated from the Bond films, though, there are dark realities and a deep history of the communist state. These divergent topics frequently find their way to the silver screen.

With Russia, there’s a sense of ornate classicism, which literally dances and bounds about the country’s dark past. There are the great composers, like Tchaikovsky, the great writers, like Dostoevsky, and the great dancers, like Baryshnikov. You ignore Russia as a major high-culture influence at your own peril.

It is clear that the country isn’t all Bond girls, ballet dancers and mobsters. It is also more than its mythic vodka consumption, the cosmonauts’ space-race and those muskrat Russian trooper hats. There is one place in Central Massachusetts, however, where you can say “privet” – translated as “Hi” – to yet another side of this seemingly paradoxical culture.

Clinton’s Museum of Russian Icons, a proverbial diamond in the rough, boasts more than 340 remarkable pieces, making founder Gordon Lankton the proud proprietor of the largest collection of Russian icons in North America.

With installations that span more than six centuries, the museum features pieces representing everything from Znamenie – which depicts Mary harboring the Child Jesus within her – to each tier of eternity in The Last Judgment.

Lankton, along with Curator Kent der Russell, were both scouting out Russia last month, but Jesse Rives, the Assistant Curator, was on board and more than ready to help passing spectators.

“Everyone notices how much Gordon just understands the icons,” Rives said. “His displays are always well-received,” not unlike the building itself, which is Clinton’s own mini-Guggenheim, complete with spiral staircase.

Folding Iconostasis 1780

Folding Iconostasis 1780

It’s hard to believe that an old brick façade of a turn-of-the-century mill encases such priceless icons, but once you enter through the wooden doors you’re welcomed by the somber glow of modernity meant to showcase some of the brightest gems the old world has to offer. Plus it’s a green building – it’s earth-friendly from head to toe.

The museum currently displays icons across 4,800 square feet and on all three floors. Looking to expand the building, Lankton is awaiting construction, which is set to finish in October, to host a celebratory exhibition lined up from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

“That will be the first time most of those icons have left Russia,” said Rives, “and definitely the first time some of those icons have appeared in America.”

Consistently breaking tired cultural barriers, like what’s left of the Iron Curtain, the museum hosted in April some of the world’s premier Dostoevsky scholars in a conference that was held in conjunction with the College of the Holy Cross.

One of the more recent events was a solo-symposium on the correlation amongst literature, music, seduction and adultery in nineteenth-century Russian prose.

Entitled “Hot Topics,” this lecture left listeners with an earful of live music, along with an enlightened view on old Russian stereotypes. Who knew Tchaikovsky could awaken such dormant sexuality and inspire the most brilliant seduction?

Clearly, the Museum of Russian Icons isn’t just another must-see showcase. In the heart of historic downtown Clinton, the space at 203 Union St. offers quite an educational bang for your buck. The museum’s audio tours are at no extra charge and lectures are typically free, with a $5 admission for an adult. Seniors can simply drop in a voluntary donation if they so choose.

For more Eastern surprises, charm and delights, you can browse the facilities, the icons and the story behind the man who started it all at the Museum’s website, www.museumofrussianicons.org.

FoldingIconostasis, circa 1780. Photo courtesy of www.museumofrussianicons.org

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