The founding director of the Museum of Russian Icons, Kent Dur Russell, has announced that he plans to retire in May 2022 after more than sixteen years of dedicated leadership of the Clinton-based museum. Established in 2006, the Museum of Russian Icons is the only museum in the United States dedicated to Russian icons and has the largest icon collection outside of Russia. Russell was instrumental in the founding, construction and expansion of the museum and guided the institution through years of dynamic growth.
“Thanks to the vision of our founder, Gordon Lankton, and the extraordinary efforts of our employees and supporters, our team has created an American Alliance of Museums-accredited organization in record time. The creation of this organization was the capstone of my forty-five year career in museums, which began in 1977 as a research fellow at the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin,” said Russell. “I am very proud of our collective achievements and thank everyone whose creativity, vision and hard work work they have made possible. The museum is in excellent condition and ready for a seamless and smooth transition to new leadership.”
Before working with Lankton to open the museum, Russell was executive director of the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, MA from 1996 to 2007. He was also Curator of Collections at Fitchburg Art Museum, Associate Director of Programs and Education at Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, NY and Managing Director of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Gallery in Belfast, Ireland.
“The Museum of Russian Icons has experienced tremendous growth and development during Kent’s sixteen-year tenure,” said Jack McCabe, President of the Board of Trustees. “Kent’s years of hard work, dedication and dynamic leadership have helped enable significant achievements and earned the appreciation and gratitude of the local and museum communities. We are grateful for his dedication to ensuring the museum is positioned for continued organizational growth, financial stability and limitless potential.”
THE STORY OF A PARTNERSHIP TO BUILD A NEW MUSEUM
“I met Gordon Lankton in 1995 when I was curator at the Fitchburg Art Museum,” says Russell. “I had heard that an art collector had a manufacturing facility near Clinton. So I called him and he said come over and I’ll give you a tour. On that first visit, I was fascinated by his plastic molding factory, Nypro. It was exciting to see raw plastic pellets go in at one end of a high-tech molding machine and come out the other end as a bic pen or a precision-molded medical device component. After that, I kept in touch and asked for his support for some projects, which he always answered generously.
“Over time we became friends. I occasionally visited his house and looked at his icon collection. Our growing friendship led to him organizing his first museum exhibition at the Higgins Armory Museum in 2004 entitled Shields of Faith. Gordon then asked me to accompany him and David Durrant in designing a museum for his icons, negotiating with the Board of Directors of the Higgins Armory for one day off per week from my work as Director there. I joined his team for two years while we designed the museum in Clinton and started construction.
“Then, in 2006, when I was offered an executive position at another New England museum, I went to see Gordon to say goodbye, and right then and there he asked me to join his team full-time instead. As the saying goes, He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse! My work at his museum was a blast, working so closely with Gordon was challenging and exciting. It was also an exceptional opportunity for me to see philanthropy up close to see. The bonus was traveling with Gordon many times to Russia and Europe to organize international exhibitions for the museum, hunt for icons or participate in auctions worldwide. Building the museum was what Gordon loved; he devoted his post-Nypro time to this project, so it was always fun and an adventure; it never felt like work. Isn’t that just the best way to live?”
Kent dur Russell was born in 1952 in New York City, where his father ran Russell Marketing Research. He left the United States at a young age to attend boarding schools in France and Ireland. He attended Trinity College Dublin (TCD) where he received his BA in 1975 and his MA in 1978. and has an Art History degree from City College, New York, where his research focused on Mark Rothko. Prior to his fellowship at the National Gallery, he embarked on a 7,500 mile overland journey from Dublin to Kathmandu through Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
Russell has held curatorial roles at the National Gallery of Ireland, the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin, Ireland, the Newry Art Centre, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Contemporary Art Gallery in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Museum of Art, Science and Industry in Bridgeport, CT, the New Museum, the Studio Museum of Harlem and the New Museum of Hispanic Art in New York City, the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, NY, and the Fitchburg Art Museum, MA. He is a founding member of the Art Critics Association International (Ireland, 1977), art critic for Phoenix Magazine, Dublin, film critic for the BBC Northern Ireland and art commentator for numerous radio and television programmes. Russell was a member of the Anglo-Irish Encounter (for peace in Northern Ireland) and was a member of the Northern Ireland Committee of the British School in Rome and the Advisory Board of the Belfast College of Art.
He was Associate and Associate Professor as an art historian at Quinnipiac College, CT, Fitchburg State College, MA, and Long Island University in Southampton, NY. Russell has served on the editorial board of Arte en Columbia and has curated numerous publications and exhibitions including Artists from Northern Ireland at the Aeorta Gallery in Amsterdam and Irish Artists at the Hendrix Gallery in NYC. He received the New York Cultural Council’s annual award for his exhibition The 1980s: A Look at America, and his exhibitions have been reviewed by the New York Times, the Times of London, Burlington Magazine, and the local press.
Russell is a Trustee of the Lankton Charitable Corporation and the Ballets Russes Arts Initiative in Boston and Vice President of the Executive Committee of the Tower Hill Botanic Garden, MA. He is a shareholder of the Worcester Art Museum and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and was a member of the Client Advisory Council of the US Trust, Bank of America. Russell was President of the New England Museum Association (NEMA) from 2005 to 2007, Chair of the Council of Regional Associations of the American Association of Museums (AAM), and has been an AAM member since 1976. He was the founding chairman of the Worcester Cultural Coalition during which time he received the keys to the city of Worcester.
Russell’s involvement in civic, social and cultural organizations includes the Irish Georgian Society, the Boston Tavern Club, the Society of Mayflower Descendants (MA and NY), the Worcester Fire Society, the St. Wulstan Society and the Worcester Club. He has been listed in Who’s Who in the World since 2015. In 1988 he published A Little American Cookbook (Appletree Press), which was printed six times; He also wrote as an anonymous social gossip columnist for Image Magazine in the 1980s. He lives in the oldest house in Lunenburg (1723) with his Irish wife, a doctor trained at Trinity College Dublin, and has two adult sons.