East & West – Museums Spotlight Varying Views of the World

  • Vicky Tippawong
  • Posted on August 23, 2022

Baba Yaga Bridie WolejkoIt’s an unlikely gem, found nestled in a small American town with 19th century industrial roots — but the Museum of Russian Icons has clearly established itself as a “must” for visitors to North Central Massachusetts.

The vision of the late industrialist Gordon Lankton, the Museum houses a stunning and expansive collection of these works — the largest assemblage of Russian icons outside of Russia — in a former mill building and police station. Stepping through the doors whisks visitors halfway around the world, with three floors of galleries displaying its permanent collection and special exhibitions ranging from contemporary Russian art to icons from other Orthodox cultures.

More than a display of artworks, this museum opens a window into the history and culture of Russia.

Through October 2, the Museum is spotlighting Images of Atheism: The Soviet Assault on Religion — exploring the role of visual propaganda in the Communist Party’s seven-decade war against religion (ca. 1920–1990).  The posters and publications on exhibit demonstrate the Soviet’s efforts to demonize the world’s religions, and eradicate faith, particularly among young people.

Also on view is Tea is for Tradition, objects that evoke warmth, home and family. Much of tea’s popularity is owed to Russia’s literary greats and decorative artists; in their craft, tea is immortalized as a central aspect of the Russian identity.

Later in October, and running through the winter, the focus shifts to Holy Helpers: Folk Icons of Peasant Russia (1861-1917), an exhibition of rarely exhibited Russian folk art that explores the role of icons in the daily life of Russian peasants — deeply devout people who viewed icons as protection from the trials and tribulations of their harsh existence. The Orthodox peasant home, simple yet practical, would always feature a home altar — known as the Beautiful Corner —  where the family would display their icons.

A Short Ride, A Different World

A short ride from Clinton, the Fitchburg Art Museum offers a starkly different experience, with a focus on contemporary American art, with a range of additional exhibits exploring other cultures, from ancient Egypt to Africa. One of the most treasured cultural institutions in Central New England, the Museum has a long history in the city, displaying not only art historical collections and its special exhibitions of contemporary New England art, but also creating and supporting education programs, public art projects, community partnerships, and creative economy initiatives.

Want to see what’s on the mind of today’s American artists? Landing in the city’s downtown before Labor Day, you can view works by local artists in the popular Regional Exhibition of Art and Craft, one of the longest-running juried exhibitions in New England. The museum is conveniently located in the heart of the city, at 185 Elm Street, just a block from the picturesque Upper Common.

View Hypnagogia: Bridie Wolejko’s Mixed Media Fantasies — hand-crafted mixed-media collages and objects that create dream-like images, informed by the artist’s interests in myth, magic, horror, popular culture, surrealism, architecture, and nature.