Twenty Episcopal iconographers packed their bags recently for a journey to see historic Russian icons. But instead of flying thousands of miles to Moscow, they boarded a bus in New Hope, Pennsylvania, for a 275-mile, two-day trip to Clinton in western Massachusetts.
There, at the Museum of Russian Icons, a state-of-the-art, renovated 150-year-old mill building, they viewed some of the most important Russian icons, spanning the 16th to 19th centuries, ever displayed in the United States. The exhibition, Two Museums, One Culture, displayed a collection from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, one of the largest museums in Russia, along with icons from the Museum of Russian Icons, a nonprofit educational museum.
The Clinton museum has more than 340 Russian icons, the largest collection of its kind in North America and one of the largest private collections outside of Russia, said its founder, Gordon Lankton. Its icons span six centuries and include those from the earliest periods of icon painting to the present.
The excursion was arranged by the Rev. Peter Pearson, an accomplished iconographer, teacher and author of A Brush With God: An Icon Workbook.
A priest who currently serves part-time at St. Philip's Episcopal Church, New Hope, in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, he has led Episcopal iconographers, many of them his students, on trips to Italy, Greece, Turkey and, this coming October, to Ireland.
The opportunity to see ancient icons along with the modern ones was striking, said Jody Cole of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, an iconographer and lecturer on the spirituality of iconography who with Pearson has co-organized several trips for iconographers.
"They were of different sizes and mostly very colorful. One ancient one, The Last Judgment from the 17th century, appeared to have a cast of thousands," she said. "It was a tremendous opportunity to have these historic icons here without having to travel to Russia."
Elizabeth Bowman, a poet from Lambertville, New Jersey, who accompanied the group on the bus trip, said she was spellbound by the icons. "What fascinated me was one icon of John the Baptist. I stood where he was," she said, describing the life-like figure that looked down at her.
"It is history recorded," she added. "It's neat to see history recorded in this way by people who take the time to do that kind of detail."