A Collection and the Idea of a Museum 

This museum was the brainchild of industrialist and collector Gordon B. Lankton (1931–2020). In the early 1960s, the plastics engineer originally from Peoria, Illinois, went to work at Nypro, an injection molding plastics company in Clinton, Massachusetts. He eventually became its president. 

In the early 1990s, Lankton established a large-scale joint manufacturing enterprise to produce plastic household goods in Moscow. One of the first US-Soviet business partnerships, this led the way for the introduction of free enterprise in Russia. 

On one such business trip, he purchased his first icon at an open-air market. He was attracted to this small icon of Saint Nicholas, a type of icon used for private prayer because of its simplicity and sincerity.  

He continued collecting for over 20 years, eventually opening a museum in Clinton to give back to the community that had supported his business. He donated his entire collection to establish the Museum of Russian Icons, to present his collection as an example of the soul of Russian culture to an American public. 

A Museum and Center for Research

The Museum of Russian Icons was founded in 2006. Its campus began with the acquisition and renovation of a late 1800s building which had originally housed the executive offices of the Bigelow Textile Company, enhanced with the addition of a contemporary, aluminum-clad addition which housed the South Gallery, Library, and offices. Another historic building, the adjacent 150-year-old former courthouse and police station (with its jail cells intact), was renovated in 2010 to provide additional gallery space, a terrace with a green roof, and performance facilities to host lectures and concerts.

Lankton created 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. 

Important early exhibitions presented by Lankton and founding director Kent Russell included Two Museums/One Culture, featuring the works of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and Treasures from Moscow: Icons from the Andrey Rublev Museum. 

Lankton’s vision of establishing a world-class museum in Clinton was validated in 2016 when the Museum of Russian Icons, under the leadership of Russell, received accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums, an honor signifying that its operations were in full compliance with the highest standards of American museums.

The museum has attracted visitors from throughout the region and around the world, presents a lively slate of cultural and scholarly programs that contributes to the cultural life of its region, and is a major attraction of visitors to Clinton and Central Massachusetts. 

The Center for Icon Studies at the Museum of Russian Icons was founded in 2012 to support research in iconology and iconography. The Center published the first edition of The Journal of Icon Studies in 2015. In 2021, the Center presented the virtual conference Collecting Orthodox Art in the West: A History and Look Towards the Future, and in 2022 The Visual Culture of Iconoclasm and Atheism.