CLINTON – To commemorate the life of the Museum of Russian Icons’ founder, Gordon Lankton, the exhibit “The Long Way Home: A Photographic Journey,” is being revived. Featuring more than 40 photographs taken by Lankton during a life-changing motorcycle trip to 24 different countries across Europe and Asia in the mid-1950s, the exhibition will be on view July 29 through Oct. 3.
The show was originally on display in July 2020, when the museum reopened after the pandemic.
On Nov. 6, 1956, armed with a camera, maps, passport, C-Rations, a budget of $5 per day ($3 food, $1 sleeping, $1 for gas and everything else) and little else, 25-year-old Lankton left Frankfurt, Germany, on an NSU motorcycle and began an adventure that would influence the path he would take for the next 50 years.
This trip from Germany to Japan prompted him to reflect on international relations and conceptualize the worldwide corporation and museum that he would one day build.
“In March, we lost our friend and founder Gordon B. Lankton, and have witnessed an outpouring of sympathy from around the globe,” said Executive Director Kent Russell. “An astute collector and skilled businessman, Gordon’s boundless cultural curiosity, sense of adventure, social entrepreneurship, and generous spirit are at the core of our institution. It is particularly fitting to present The Long Way Home exhibition to commemorate his life; and his many local and global contributions. His example of a life well-lived serves as an inspiration to many.”
From his early days as a Boy Scout collecting pennies to the founding of the Museum of Russian Icons in 2006 to house his extensive collection of sacred art, Lankton was a passionate collector. Whether it was African sculpture, World War I and II posters, or die-cast model cars, Lankton not only pursued the objects, but also information about their origins and the artists who created them.
His interest in icons, the emblematic sacred art form of Russian Orthodoxy, which stems from the Byzantine tradition, was piqued in 1989 during a business trip to Russia, when he purchased an image of Saint Nicholas at an open-air market. After opening a branch of his plastics manufacturing company, Nypro, in Moscow, Gordon developed a lifelong appreciation for Russia’s people, cultural traditions, and especially icons.
To continue his legacy, the museum has created the Gordon B. Lankton Collections Fund. It will stand as an enduring testament to his love of art, his museum and his community and ensure that his vision will continue to be shared by visitors from all walks of life and all over the world.
About the exhibit
In 1953, while studying engineering at Cornell University, a 22-year-old Lankton traveled to Japan on an exchange program to study relations between Japan and the U.S. Lankton immersed himself in Japanese culture and ignited his curiosity, passion, imagination and quest for knowledge of the world. With a desire to explore the world, and to understand his place in it, he began extensive planning to execute a trip around the world, but first, he had to fulfill his two-year military commitment.
Lankton lobbied hard for his service to be completed in Europe. Deployed to Germany, he immersed himself in absorbing every detail of German culture, language and way of life.
He began questioning whether to pursue a career as an engineer or in the Foreign Service. He continued his plans for his trip, with a route starting in Germany and ending in Japan and challenged himself to meet two objectives: To see the world; and to visit the American embassies in all of the countries where he traveled and talk to Foreign Service officers to see what their jobs entailed and what kind of lives they were leading.
From shopkeepers, farmers, embassy employees, dignitaries, and other travelers, Lankton engaged with everyone he encountered along the way. These experiences played an integral role in his trip and his future.
Lankton’s journal describes many challenging events. His passport and money were stolen in Burma; in Calcutta, he encountered complicated local government regulations, and an intricate Indian bureaucracy when he wanted to sell his motorcycle. He managed these situations by partnering with sympathetic allies to assist him in negotiating the challenges he found along the way, skills that benefitted him throughout his career.
Tales of an American traveling on a motorcycle preceded Lankton’s arrival in many countries. Villagers would come out to observe him and to admire his motorcycle, the subject of curiosity and admiration in many remote places.
Along the way, Lankton would find a bed and meals at the end of a day of traveling and stop when he was tired. He slept outside, at youth hostels and, on occasion, he received invitations to private homes. He recorded his encounters, experien
ces and budgets in his journals.
Reaching Calcutta, India, in March 1957, he was obliged to sell the motorcycle, as the remaining trip required sea travel. From this point onward, trains, planes, trucks, boats, and walking were the new order of the day, which afforded even more interactions with the local people.
With a passion for the arts and a keen eye for quality, Lankton sought out the “pure artists” of each country he visited. He often disregarded the commercial city shops and sought out studios and workshops where he could meet and talk with artists.
All along the journey, Lankton would purchase art and send it home to Peoria by mail.
He had many conversations with artists and craftspeople. These encounters resulted in Lankton purchasing works of art that had personal meaning for him.
The journey ends
Lankton arrived in Tokyo, Japan, on July 12, 1957. He was greeted by his friend Taizo, whom he knew from his previous trips to that country as a representative of the Cornell University Student Government.
The next few weeks were spent in the hospitality of other friends as he rediscovered Japan. Some of them became trusted and loyal business colleagues as Lankton established his plastics business over the next six decades.
On July 31, 1957, he boarded a plane in Tokyo headed for the U.S. It would be the first time he was home in nearly three years.
In the 1960s, Lankton went to work as a plastics engineer at Nypro, an international injection molded plastics company in Clinton, eventually becoming president. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, he visited one country he wasn’t able to during his 1950s trip because of the Cold War: Russia.
He purchased icons on these trips. His private collection quickly grew, eventually giving birth to the idea of starting a museum. He chose Clinton for the location and the Museum of Russian Icons opened in October 2006.
In 2007, Lankton’s book, “The Long Way Home,” was released, chronicling, in his photos and words, his trip of 27,000-plus miles to 24 countries in 267 days.
Zoom Webinar: Exploring The Long Way Home Exhibition: Taped webinar available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YswTcl1Siw: Russell, consultant Karen Lankton and exhibition curator Chris Stratford discuss the process of translating “The Long Way Home” from book to exhibition, including mapping Lankton’s motorcycle journey and selecting the photographs.
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, seniors (59-plus) $10, students $5, children (13-17) $5, children under 13 free.
Visit www.museumofrussianicons.org for more information on the museum and its collections.