A New Name for a Special Place

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For nearly two decades, art-lovers from around the world have come to North Central Massachusetts to view the spectacular collection of icons at a museum founded by local industrialist Gordon Lankton.

The Clinton attraction became the only museum in the United States solely dedicated to Russian icons, holding the largest collection of its kind in North America, and one of the largest private collections outside of Russia.

This year, the familiar Museum of Russian Icons at 203 Union St. has taken on a new identity: it’s now the Icon Museum and Study Center, offering access to the country’s largest collection of icons and Eastern Christian art, as well as research resources and programs for scholars. The museum complex holds a permanent collection of over a thousand Russian, Greek, and Ethiopian icons and Orthodox works of art. In addition to its permanent collection and various special exhibitions. the museum hosts a lively slate of cultural and scholarly programs.

The war in Ukraine, not surprisingly, played a role in the name change. “The thing is, we do break with Russia and its politics because war destroys everything. But we do not break with Russian culture. We want to show this magnificent culture as world culture,” Simon Morsink, the museum’s executive director, said when the change was announced in October 2023. At the same time, it accompanied an expansion of the collection to include sacred icons from a broader diversity of Eastern Christian cultures.

What is an Icon?

An icon is an image of a holy person or event created by an iconographer who follows the strict standards of the Orthodox Church. Icons range in size from the very small (for home use) to very large (for cathedrals). It is not worshiped, but rather venerated and used in prayer. Traditionally unsigned, icons are considered a window or portal into a divine realm. Icons have been described as a bridge between heaven and earth. Its visual language reflects the culture and traditions of the Eastern Christian world.