Nypro's Lankton shares icon collection

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Clinton officials expect Nypro Inc. Chairman Gordon Lankton's new museum for Russian icons to be a cultural and tourist attraction.

Lankton, 75, unveiled Oct. 12 the Museum of Russian Icons, a ``green'' building with solar power, light-emitting-diode lighting, ultraviolet-light-protected windows and automated displays. An invitation-only opening earlier this month drew 550 attendees to the nonprofit educational museum, which houses about 260 icons.

The icons include paintings of Jesus Christ, his mother Mary, saints and religious historical events. Most are painted on wood panels, but they also include mosaics and tapestries. The oldest on exhibit was a painting of St. John the Baptist, which was painted around 1480.

Lankton accumulated the collection during his more than 40 visits to what is now Russia, where Nypro runs a facility. He still attends auctions searching for more.

``This is a huge achievement. Here you have an industrialist - and a highly successful one at that - and it turns out that he has an unerring eye for quality,'' said Kent Russell, who served as a consultant and is the executive director of the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass.

``It's an extraordinary legacy of giving back and it is something that probably endures for centuries. People will think of Clinton as the town with the icon museum,'' Russell said.

Lankton was elated with the finished product, noting, ``It is more than I expected. I never expected it to be this spectacular.''

He said it took about 18 months and evolved through Friday-morning meetings with designer David Durrant, who has worked on many of the Nypro projects in the past.

The three-floor museum is set apart with a metal and glass spiral staircase in the center that allows the icons to be seen from all floors. About half of his collection is on display now.

Lankton said he still gets up about 4 a.m. and arrives early each day at Nypro, where he serves as chairman. However, now he plans to skip out for the daily opening of the museum at 11. It is across the street from Nypro and looks out over Clinton's Central Park.

``I don't know if anyone will show up, but if they don't, I will be happy here with the icons,'' Lankton said, noting the importance of preserving the collection.

He said he learned through a showing of some icons from Oct. 13, 2005, to Jan. 14, 2006, at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis that black backgrounds and shaded rooms with protection from ultraviolet light enhance the collection viewing.

Two visitors from Moscow were impressed.

Alyona Knyazeva, a painter and director of icon workshops in Moscow, said through an interpreter that she is inspired by the museum and sees it as ``very important for American cultural relations.''

Oleg Tarasov, a historian who works at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, was impressed by the collection, noting, ``ancient icons are impossible to find and even the 15th and 16th century icons are extremely expensive.''

Lankton did not disclose the worth of his collection, saying only that it is ``priceless.''

``It is actually very exciting for the town,'' said Don Lowe, director of community and economic development in Clinton. ``Gordon has the largest collection of icons in North America, and for him to create a museum and for him to feel so strongly about Clinton, it takes a large commitment to the town.''

Nypro, a custom injection molder and toolmaker, is the largest employer in Clinton, with about 1,000 workers in a town that numbered 12,435 in the 2000 census. Lowe said Nypro has a solid history of refurbishing and building to preserve the historical nature of its site.

The home of the new museum was constructed in 1853 as a library.