An interview with Kent Russell of the Museum of Russian Icons

museumBUILDING_back-1It is such a great honor to interview Mr. Kent Russell, CEO Curator of the Museum of Russian Icons.  The Museum of Russian Icons was founded in 2006 as a nonprofit educational institution by Massachusetts art collector and industrialist Gordon B. Lankton. Including more than 1000 Russian icons and artifacts, the collection is the largest of its kind in North America, and one of the largest private collections outside Russia. Spanning six centuries, the collection includes important historical paintings dating from the earliest periods of icon “writing” to the present.”

In addition to the Museums vast collection of icons they also have a Russian Tea Room, Prosopon School of Iconology, the Center for Icon Studies, hands on adult and children’s learning projects and events, and so many other exciting offerings.  One example of a way they provide hands on learning is during February school vacation week.  The museum will have crafts, games, music and dancing to help children learn more about Ethiopia, while also viewing the exhibit on The Vibrant Art and Storied History of Ethiopian Icons.

I am so excited to go visit the Museum of Russian Icons very soon and wish I had known about it while we lived in Boston! I am also VERY thankful to Mr. Lankton for creating the museum, and am extremely grateful to Mr. Russell for taking the time to do this interview. 

The following video is such a great look into what happens at this wonderful museum.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 12.43.43 PMMuseum name: Museum of Russian Icons

My name: Kent Russell

My job/role at the museum: CEO Curator

As a child, my favorite children’s book was or My favorite children’s book is: Babar the King

What do you enjoy most about your job? The changing nature of it, every day brings new challenges, also being close to magnificent art all the time

What do you love about the museum? It’s the finest collection of Russian icons outside of Russia, internationally recognized so we meet people from all over the world.

How and why did the museum begin? The Museum was opened here in Clinton in 2006 it’s here because the founder plastic industrialist Gordon Lankton had his corporate headquarters here and felt that he should give back to the community that made him wealthy.

What does a typical day at the museum look like? We open at 11 and the crowds come in, volunteer tour guide line up and greet visitors. We are very visitor focused, we feel that this is the most important function we have, access to this magnificent collection in a friendly and non- threatening atmosphere.

What does one experience when visiting?   The finest collection of Byzantine style painting in American, you’ll see paintings of rich colors, and precious metal and jeweled encrusted frames, a feast for the eye, a challenge to the intellect and a balm for the spirit.

How do you choose the exhibits? We choose exhibits that reflect our mission to open a conversation about Russia and its culture, so all sorts of shows that bring people closer to understanding Russia, Russians and mostly icons.

 Is there anything in particular you look for in an icon when choosing it for an exhibit? Quality. Icons are very common, even the humble ones have an authentic spirit to them but there are some that reach the level of extraordinary and timeless art and we like those.

What are some of the most interesting icons at the museum? Our earliest one, St John the Baptist from 1420s is a treasure. Hard-won at a NYC auction about 5 years ago. It belongs in any museum anywhere in the world. Very moving image of this extraordinary person. We are over 800 icons so there are at least 20 % that are very unusual and that you could only see here or in a museum in Russia.

What is, and how old is, the oldest icon at the museum? early 1400s, we have a few on a Tenderness Mother of God is considered a fine painting by the Russian curators at the Tretyakov Museum in Moscow, she is very small but almost intact from the time she was painted for private devotion almost 600 year ago.

 What is the Center for Icon Studies? It’s one of the premier academic center for the study of icons in the world. The Center publishes ion line (and soon in hard copy) a journal of Icon Studies that brings together academic papers from scholars around the world on the subject about and around icons. The Center is collaborating with the University of Rijeka Croatia to present a scholarly conference here at the Museum June 2th and 13th 2015 in conjunction with our upcoming Byzantine Origins of Russian Icons show with the participation of the British Museum 9London) show. There is no other such enterprise focused on Russian icons in the world except here at this Museum.

 Does the museum offer family friendly activities? Lots, hands on activities throughout the galleries, an award winner booklet (AWARD NEM 2009) of activities and treasure hunts for kids, each temporary show has a family and kids corner.

 Does the museum offer special programs for children? Yes, egg decorating, workshops throughout the year for kids on all sorts of subjects that are challenging and fun to do. We work a lot with schools too.

 I noticed you have a Kids Corner, what will kind of books, toys, and activities will you find there? Russian stories by Pushkin and fairy tales are of course famous and are the basis of many ballets…so we have book about sleeping beauty and swan lake. We have language books and coloring books and reference books and atlases (we like kids to know they geography!).

If I could tell aspiring young iconographers one (or several) thing(s) it would be: Work hard, learn the trade, there are rules and if you respect them and learn then you can become a master

If I could tell aspiring young museum curators one (or several) thing(s) it would be: Get an art history degree, join NEMA or a regional professional organization and net work, volunteer at a museum, travel, publish, organize shows, try to get a job in a museum…

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