Guess what? The only self-contained Russian Art Museum in the US is located here. And it’s fantastic!
It’s located in the former Mayflower Congregational Church, which is a historic building from the 1930s. The renovation from church to art gallery is quite exceptional. Because the space is small, they have 2 – 3 exhibits that rotate 3 or 4 times per year. So it’s a museum that you can keep going back to and see different things.
The current exhibits are: Dinner with the Tsars: Russian Imperial Porcelain, Shades of Red: The Evolution of Early Soviet Painting, and Imperial St. Petersburg: Architectural Visions.
Part of why I loved this place is because of our docent. She was incredible! She wasn’t just a walking encyclopedia, she was a walking google search. I’m trying to remember her education… She has a PhD and taught at the college level.
Part of what made it so interesting is that the Russians (meaning Russian Empire) did “art for social transformation and reform, not art for art’s sake.” Before the Bolshevik Revolution, 99% of the Russian people could not read. So there were paintings depicting kids doing homework. It was the start of universal education and art was used to persuade the people to buy into that idea.
Some of what you’ll see in Russian art are strong men and women often working. Ordinary life is portrayed in their art and since their climate is similar to Canada, many activities that you do in cold climates. Looking toward the light represents looking toward the future. There are many different styles that are used to portray all of these ideas.
I can’t even begin to describe what all you can see in just one painting. The images, colors, lighting, placement of figures all mean something. It was so fantastic to have Carol, the docent, explain the significance in several of the paintings. The porcelain exhibit was pretty incredible too.
On a side note, the porcelain collection is owned by a retired Wisconsin English teacher. The collection on display was just a fraction of what he has. Just one of the plates was worth 20,000 British pounds! I don’t think I’ll retire off of anything I’ve collected on my travels. Oh well…
Part of what makes this all so interesting is that it has become accessible since the iron curtain came down. The Shades of Red exhibit was paintings from the 1920s and 1930s. Certain styles (Impressionism) were even banned during this time. Realism with a message seemed to be the theme. The impressionistic paintings included in this exhibit were probably hidden until it was safe to take them out.
When you go there, you can request a Scavenger Hunt from the front desk. They are geared for grades K – 2 and grades 3 – 6. The 3 – 6 is one that adults would be fine with doing. I would highly recommend checking the website to find out when the tours are given. Personally, I think you can learn so much more with a guide. And if you get Carol, you’ll be amazed! I highly recommend it!