Museum has big exhibit about little jewels.
CLINTON - Gordon Lankton first visited the small town of Palekh, in Russia, 20 years ago.
He found a small town on a dusty road, with a dusty museum of local art.
That art, from the Palekh region, is the subject of the current exhibit at the museum Lankton founded in Clinton: The Museum of Russian Icons. The exhibit, "Palekh Icons: The Enchantment of Russian Painting," includes icons and painted lacquered boxes from Palekh, Fedoskino, Kholui and Mstero, all in a small region of Russia. The exhibit continues through Sept. 1.
Works from the private collection of Berlin, Germany art dealer and restorer, Thomas Monius and augmented with paintings from the Museum of Russian Icons collection, are showcased in this transformation of traditions in the new exhibition. Exhibition components from the Monius' collection include large and average-sized icons from the 18th and 19th century, some with unusual motifs. Examples of Palekh objets d'art like papier-mache boxes are included in the exhibition.
Monius is one of the leading international authorities on Russian and Greek icons dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries, and has worked with Lankton and the Museum of Russian Icons on acquisitions. He began his work in icon restoration 25 years ago, and for nearly 20 years has owned Ikonengalerie Monius on the Kurfuerstendamm, one of the most fashionable avenues in Berlin. His gallery serves as a strategic collaborative for icon museums and enthusiasts worldwide. Many icons from his private collection have been exhibited in noteworthy European museums.
But not all the treasures come from across the ocean.
"The earliest icon in the exhibit is ours, from the 1600s," Museum Director Kent Russell said.
The towns, in which the art was produced, are in are northeast of Moscow. "Virtually all the men were icon painters. They developed a style of miniatures. They are the ones who developed the one-hair method of icon painting. By the 19th century, they were producing millions of icons.
"Then the Revolution comes along," Kent added. The Soviets discouraged the religious painting and promoted these artists to turn to traditional art. Officials asked them to use their skills to do lacquer boxes, creating traditional art with Russian folklore images."
Three years ago, the museum featured lacquered boxes in a show, including Stalin's desk set. The show attracted new visitors, who might not have otherwise visited because of the religious nature of the icons. These visitors got a chance to see the artistry of the icons, especially the miniature work.
The current exhibit includes boxes with fairy tale images, including unicorns, swans and fish tales, with bright colors that contrast with the traditional icon images around them.
The artists of the Palekh region are continuing to create their art.
"In the last 10 years, the villages are back to painting icons," Russell said.
That is good news for Lankton, whose favorite items in the current exhibit are the icons.
"Some of these are just spectacular," Lankton said, gazing at one of the highly-detailed creations.
PHOTOG: Item photos/JAN GOTTESMAN
CUTLINE: (1) Above, visitors look at icons in the current exhibit at the Museum of Russian Icons, `Palekh Icons: The Enchantment of Russian Painting.' (2) Right, one of the lacquered boxes in the exhibit. See more photos online at: www.clintonitem.com.