During his many years of traveling, Nypro Inc. Chairman Gordon Lankton gained a fondness for Russian icons. He's now planning to open a museum showcasing his collection.
He has collected 230 icons, some of which are on display in Minnesota, but most of which will be showcased sometime in late spring at a nonprofit museum, in a building he is renovating, across from Nypro headquarters in Clinton.
Icons are usually religious images painted on wooden panels. They can be pictures of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary or saints, but they've been used in Russian Orthodox religion since 988 and are still being made today. The icons have religious meanings and many tell a story. However, in Russia, religion and icons were banned for 70 years during the reign of communism. Many icons were destroyed, along with churches and monasteries.
During a recent interview in Clinton, Lankton said that he and his wife were first lured to explore Russia back in 1989. He said that the country at the time was seeking companies to invest in joint ventures, and the lure was a trip down the Volga River. He and about 80-100 other foreign executives were lectured each day about the benefits of investing. However, each day, they also were allowed to visit the country.
That led injection molder Nypro to invest 20 percent in a Russian household-appliance company. Nypro still does molding and mold making there, as well as in 18 other countries.
``I grew fascinated with Russia very quickly,'' said Lankton.
Lankton said he makes at least three trips a year to Russia, allowing him to look around. He found his first icon at a Russian flea market for $20.
He said that a couple of his Russian friends educated him about the icons, and he has been learning about them ever since. Lankton said his friends plan trips to various Russian sites so he can learn more on each visit. Icons no longer are allowed out of Russia, but Lankton finds new pieces all the time. Recently, he flew to London to check out an auction of Russian articles.
He has 47 pieces on display at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. The exhibit, ``Icons: Windows to Heaven,'' opened on Oct. 13 and runs through Jan. 14.
``It's been very well-received. In terms of attendance, we've had over 4,000 people go through the museum,'' said Bradford Shinkle, president of the Museum of Russian Art
``The icon is a unique body of historical and aesthetic work,'' he said, noting that it is a great supplement to the work on display.
Shinkle added that the attendance should top 10,000 by the end of the exhibit and has served as a great complement to other Russian art on display.
At the same time, Lankton has formed a nonprofit organization to oversee his collection. Back in January 2005, Lankton bought a 4,000-square-foot facility across from Nypro that has served as a library, post office and lastly, the Radius Product Development headquarters.
``I just wanted to preserve the collection,'' he said.
Lankton has installed an elevator in the building and is replacing the flat roof with a sloped one, much like it was 100 years ago - except the new roof's south side will be covered with photo-voltaic cells to provide most of the electricity for the building.
``We have to have special climate controls that specify plus or minus 2° F and we hope to have spectacular lighting,'' said Lankton, who was quite enthusiastic about his newest venture, the Museum of Russian Icons.
Nypro is an employee-owned company with 66 plastics businesses worldwide. The company reported its 2005 net sales at $729 million.