Russian Icons Collector Discusses His Passion for the Art
LAKELAND (Feb. 3, 2010) - Russian icons have touched the life and soul of Gordon B. Lankton.
Lankton, chairman of the board of Nypro Inc., and founder of the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Mass., is the first to acknowledge that he's a mechanical engineer, not an art historian. However, since he purchased his first icon at a flea market in Moscow for $20, he has been fascinated by the ancient tradition of icon writing.
Lankton spoke of his passion for the exquisitely detailed icons during a gallery talk Tuesday evening as the exhibition "Sacred Visions: Masterworks from the Museum of Russian Icons" opened in FSC's Melvin Gallery. Lankton's collection includes more than 400 icons, the largest collection of its kind in North America and one of the largest collections outside Russia, and 25 of the rare pieces are on loan to FSC through Feb. 26.
The tradition of icon painting dates to the Byzantine Empire. Icons were created by religious artists, often priests, according to strict standards established by the church. Icon painters today use the same methods as icon painters of the 6th century: On wood covered with a primer known as gesso, they paint with egg yolk tempera. Orthodox Christians in Russia traditionally display a "home icon," about 10 by 12 inches, in a particular corner of their homes.
Lankton first visited Russia in 1989 when Nypro built a plastics factory there. After he bought his first icon, Lankton began studying the artwork and its traditions, and he started buying pieces during his business trips to Moscow. "They were expensive, but fantastic," he said.
Although it is perfectly legal to buy and own icons in Russia, Lankton said, it is illegal to take icons out of the country. "So maybe some of you are wondering how I got 400 of them. And maybe I should ask if there are any KGB agents here?" he said.
In the 1990s, he said, it was easy enough to slip an icon into his suitcase and bring it home. But increased security forced him to begin shopping for icons in Europe, where they can be legally bought, sold, and transported to the United States.
When Lankton's collection grew to 100 icons, he said, his wife insisted he either stop buying them or find somewhere else to store them. "I wasn't about to stop collecting them at that point," he said. "Because I loved them."
And so, in 2006, he founded the Museum of Russian Icons in an 1853 building that formerly housed Clinton's post office and library. Today, the museum draws hundreds of visitors every week.