Museum Brings Russian Icons to America
MacDonald, Jeffrey, National Catholic Reporter
CLINTON, MASS. -- In this sleepy former mill town, Americans are getting a fresh look at Russia through a lens that's seldom made available on U.S. shores: the Russian sacred icon.
Weekly attendance at the two-year-old Museum of Russian Icons has doubled from about 250 to 500 since mid-October, when 16 of Russia's most precious icons arrived on loan from the state-run Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
Visitors to the "Two Museums, One Culture" exhibit see ascetic lives of saints depicted in centuries-old, tempera-on-wood creations that survived a ban by atheist Soviet officials who burned millions of the holy objects. Russians regard these icons as portals to the holy, and as tangible links to a resurgent Christian tradition that thrived for more than 1,000 years in Russia before Soviet rule.
Museum founder Gordon Lankton, 77, bought his first icon for $20 at a Moscow flea market in 1989 during a visit to explore prospects for opening a plastics factory. He snatched up dozens of icons on subsequent visits as Russians, desperate at the time for rubles, eagerly unloaded valuables.
As his collection grew, he sought out local icon experts, who appreciated his curiosity. By the time authorities clamped down on the export of icons worth more than $100, he had already amassed most of the 350 that now form the basis of the largest collection in North America and the museum's core holdings. At a November auction in London, he paid more than $200,000 to acquire 10 more.
Although the faith on display is Christian, the austere values celebrated on these warping woodblocks have a foreign feel. …