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Aug 26

Lexington, Russian Icons & Contemporary New England Sculpture

Arts

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Posted by Demetra Pappas, guest blogger of @DemetraPappas

During a recent visit to Boston, a friend and I decided to visit the environs beyond. For this, we stayed at the newly opened Inn at Hastings Park, located at 2027 Mass. Ave in Lexington. Barely 15 miles out of Boston, the Inn at Hastings Park offered access to the city, as well as to some historic and cultural sights outside of Boston.

“Revolutionary hospitality” is what the Inn at Hastings Park calls its wonderfully cosseting experience. The two guesthouses and barn buildings comprising the inn are beautifully preserved historic buildings, only a couple of block from Lexington Green, where the Battle of Lexington was waged.

Hastings Interior

Photo: A look around the Inn at Hastings Parks by Elena Smith

The interiors have historic and patriotic touches, as well as rain showers to start or end a day of sightseeing. Sleeping accommodations include bed linens accented with blankets woven on an old-fashioned loom from Maine, along with modern touches, such as complimentary wifi access and flat screen televisions.

Hastings bed

Photo: One of several welcoming beds at the Inn at Hastings Parks by Elena Smith

Among the lovely public areas is the inn’s restaurant, Artistry on the Green. Our original plan was simply to breakfast there and be out like a shot (pun intended). We were enticed to return, between museum visits, to try the lunch menu, after sampling the exquisite breakfast menu (I especially recommend the luxuriously poached duck egg and duck with sweet potato hash, though I thoroughly enjoyed the vanilla pancakes, which were infused with vanilla bean, to add to the fragrant scent, and which I paired with savory sage and black pepper sausages.)

For a mid-day meal, a prelude to the lightly battered fresh fish with artisanal remoulade and hand cut chips was a dense mushroom soup that, with a salad, would have been a filling meal itself. On the other hand, the Lobster Cobb salad with “native” lobster, bright haricots vert, avocado, strips of bacon, chunks of tomato, topped with a farm Egg and Bayley-Hazen blue cheese was so artfully arranged and colorful that I could not resist taking my fork to my companion’s dish.

Battered fresh fish

Photo: Fresh fish, remoulade and hand cut chips from Artistry on the Green by Elena Smith

Lobster Cobb Salad

Photo: Lobster Cobb salad on the table by Elena Smith

This all served as preparation for a day of artistry and museum hopping in an area both historical and modern. The Museum of Russian Icons, located in Clinton, MA, houses the largest collection of Russian icons in North America, a collection that has a breathtaking six-century span. As one who was (somewhat secularly) raised as Greek Orthodox, the beauty and artistry of the icons always fascinated me.

Saint Nicholas

Photo: 18th century Saint Nicholas icon at the Museum of Russian Icons by Elena Smith

Saint Nicholas 2

Photo: 19th century Saint Nicholas icon at the Museum of Russian Icons by Elena Smith

 Art collector and industrialist Gordon Lankton founded the museum with pieces he collected during his own travels over the years; that collection now includes over 700 Russian icons and artifacts spanning some 600 years of artistic work. Lankton’s work has created the largest Russian icon collection to date outside of Russia, which he describes as “writing,” a reminder to me that the icons of my own church of origin were, if signed, attributed as “herry” (rhymes with cherry) or “the hand,” much like a scribe.

My companion was riveted by icons on church doors (one set of which Lankton flew to Amsterdam overnight to acquire in a private bidding) and awed by an icon series that contained a calendar. Most icons and miniatures could be observed up close and personal without being behind glass, and the museum makes magnifiers with lights available to visitors.

1500s icon

Photo: 1500s-era icon by Elena Smith

Saint Sergius

Photo: 1600s-era Saint Sergius icon by Elena Smith

The detail is exquisite and best seen in person, with a docent tour (or better yet, one by Lankton, who is delighted to share stories with travelers). As for this admittedly secular Greek Orthodox woman, being able to see a triptych (three-paneled icon) with stunningly preserved colors and lovingly carved frame, up close and personal, and not at several arms (or heights of persons) distance away, was, if you will pardon the phrase, awe-inspiring. Academically inspiring were the informative notes mounted, an experiential learning difference from the experience of childhood church.

Christ in Majesty

Photo: Christ in Majesty at the Museum of Russian Icons by Elena Smith

Triptych

Photo: Triptych at the Museum of Russian Icons by Elena Smith

The DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts is another unique, albeit more modern, experience. To visitors’ delight, prior to arriving at the parking lot and modern structure that houses the museum, there is a playful signpost, with such witty pointers as “art,” “more art,” “different arts,” “other arts,” “critically acclaimed art,” and my personal favorite directional signal, “art, apparently.” This suits the mood of the 30-acre sculpture park, which is 20 miles northwest of Boston, yet a visual lifetime away.

decordova lion

Photo: DeCordova lion sculpture

While maintaining a commitment and stated mission to New England artists by way of a biennial, the DeCordova has also branched out to purchase works of national and international artists. Also extending the artistic tree beyond what one would expect from an art institution (curatorial tours, artist talk backs), there are some unusual offerings, such as snowshoe walks, yoga in the park and birding tours, which bring even more life to this creative space.

Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, prepared the text for this piece. She writes about travel, dining, theater and the arts, historical sights and spas. You can follow her on Twitter @DemetraPappas.

Elena Smith is a freelance photographer

Photo at the top courtesy of Elena Smith.

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