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Trip Report Post-Turkey Road Trip: central MA museums

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To kill off the carb coma, my sister and I hit the road yesterday to two central Massachusetts museums: Worcester Art Museum and Museum of Russian Icons. They are about 11 miles apart, easily navigable by GPS (what did we do without her?)

From the north shore, it's no easy feat getting to Clinton, MA: a combination of 128/93/495 to some back road that winds its way through a vineyard and farmland. We arrived in Clinton, MA to visit first the Museum of Russian Icons. We'd been there last spring when I was in the throes of preparing for my trip to Russia. We returned to see the special exhibition from the Andrey Rublev museum in Moscow.

The Museum of Russian Icons was founded by a local gentleman, Gordon Lankton. Mr. Lankton had traveled extensively throughout Russia and Asia as a young man and as he got older for business. He started buying icons when he could (when it was allowed) and brought them home from Russia. When taking icons out of Russia became forbidden, he started buying them from secondary sources outside of Russia (ie: Russian families that had moved to European countries). The museum that results is in essence his personal collection. And it is magnificent. The cute little brick building on the square in Clinton is two stories of really well-done museum-making. Mr. Lankton was formerly the President of NEMA (North East Museum Association) so he knows what he's doing, and according to my sis (a Master's candidate in Museum Studies) it is a very by-the-book, clean, concise museum going experience. I would agree. You learn what you need to about the icons in the permanent collection by reading the cards on the walls. The free audioguide, which Mr. Lankton narrates himself, further adds to the experience, but the docent tour, which we did in the spring, really brings it all to life. I went to Russia with an incredibly rich understanding of icons, their purpose and how they are written. I really believe that visiting here helped me immeasurably in understanding their role (and at times, lack of role) in Russia religious life. Now that I have seen arguably the best collection in the world at the Tretyakov Gallery, I am even more impressed by what he has done in this tiny town here in MA!

The icons seem comfortably at home in the modern arrangement he's created for them. Indeed the second floor has changing LED light lining the room. And since we last visited, he's doubled the space, expanding into the adjacent, formerly-vacant space in the other half of the building. That was the ehxibition space. Because I didn't have time in Russia to get the Rublev museum (Andrey Rublev was THE master in terms of Russian icon writing), I was anxious to see the exhibition. In the end, it was "just" treasures from the museum, and none by Rublev himself, but they were gorgeous and really complimented Lankton's own collection well. My one quibble was that the exhibition was not labeled as well as the permanent collection. I found it hard not to need the written guidebook to appreciate it, but those were lying around for visitor use readily enough. I wouldn't have gotten so much out of the experience if I was just walking through the exhibition without the audio or the book. With or without the Rublev exhibition, I think this is a great stop if you've never seen icons before (please take the docent tour though!) or if you have and just want to revisit and enjoy Lankton's labor of love. It's only $5 entry, seniors are free (or can make a small donation).

We traveled onward to the Worcester Art Museum specifically to see the Manet on loan from the National Gallery in D.C.: The Dead Toreador. I'd never been here before, so we were going to spend the afternoon here. I was in D.C. and indeed the National Gallery last year at this time, and for some reason did not get to see this. This "exhibition of one" was worth the trek. It is really striking. It is indeed as the critics said, very unlike Manet, but it took my breath away as I walked into the room and found it there, the center of attention. I'm not sure what the regular visitor volume is, but we had that room, and indeed much of the museum to ourselves the day after Thanksgiving! There were more people back at the Museum of Russian Icons!

The rest of the Worcester Art Museum is interesting. Of note are: an exquisite Rembrandt (who knew?) of St. Bartholemew, an El Greco portrait that, while a bit out of proportion, had just the most stunning use of blue I've seen from him, two Renoirs, two Monets (Waterloo Bridge and a waterlilly) and, I was thrilled to see, a Sorolla sandwiched between the two Monets. I fell hard for Sorolla in Madrid, and hadn't seen him since. There is a striking Sargent in the room with the Manet, two Monets, two Renoirs, a Pisarro, a Signac...talk about loading up one room! It was very much a big bang right there! There is also a photography exhibit on now of portraits taken by iconic photographers like Stieglitz, Lange, Arbus, etc. There was an antiquities collection and an American collection which we barely scratched the surface of (I spent most of the time in European art, and allowed my sister to pick out the best of the American collection for me). I could not believe how much there was to see in this one little museum! Impressive, and worth the trip if you can take in exhibitions like this too. Entry is $14.

Can't say much about food/restaurants in the area. Last spring we ate at a small diner down the street from the Museum of Russian Icons, which had fairly good grilled cheese sandwiches and cookies. Yesterday we were too full from the holiday to think much about food.

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