Amherst’s Russian Icons: Understanding and Teaching with Original Works of Art,
June 7-8, 2010.  Guest Scholar: Wendy Salmond, Chapman University.

Amherst’s Russian Icons

Overview and Schedule

“Amherst’s Russian Icons: Understanding and Teaching with Original Works of Art” was led by guest scholar Wendy Salmond, professor of art history at Chapman University. The seminar featured the Mead’s collection of approximately 40 icons and related objects (including pattern book images, crucifixes, and small, portable shrines).  The seminar was open to Five College faculty members from any discipline curious to learn more about icons and to explore opportunities for incorporating original artifacts from the Mead’s collections into their teaching and research. Participants learned in depth and hands-on about the functions, social contexts, and meanings of icons. Particular emphasis was given to issues involving the collecting and display of Russian icons during the last two centuries in the U.S. and Russia, and to ways Russian icons have been studied, categorized, and valued.  Aspects of the art market and museology were also explored. Participants discussed teaching strategies for using these works of art in a wide variety of course subjects, including religion, history, classics, and anthropology.

Monday, June 7, 2010: Icons in Contexts: Churches and Museums

Session 1: Ways of Seeing Icons: The Church, the Museum, and the Classroom

  • From church to museum and back again
  • Shifts in taste and value - what is quality? What is our measure?
  • Icons there and here: icons vs. these icons

Session 2: The Visual Language of the Sacred

The invisible made visible, the window to the divine

  • Sacred spaces: Iconostasis, Red Corner
  • Signs of the Sacred: what vocabulary is needed to express this experience? How is a relationship between sacred and profane established?

Session 3: The Language of the Museum

Typographies, systems of classification, aesthetic criteria

  • The corpus and the census
  • The condition report and the scientific method
  • The comparative method: creating typographies
  • Connoisseurship: aesthetic seeing, subjectivity

Tuesday, June 8, 2010: Icons and Teaching

Session 1: Interdisciplinarity and Disciplinary Boundaries

  • What disciplines need/want
  • How can icons serve as documents? What do they document, reflect?
  • Theory vs. practice; Russian vs. western expertise
  • Iconography /semiotics
  • What to read, what to do with the literature

Session 2: Image and Text

Telling stories: narrative patterns and relationships

Case studies

Session 3: Thematic Dualities

  • Original and copy (proris/podlinnik and prototype)
  • Elite and mass
  • Old and New Time
  • Case studies

Session 4: Integrating the Mead’s Russian Icons into Course Curricula

  • Visual literacy
  • Cross-cultural comparisons: the hieratic, liminality, framings, treatment of space and time, narrative structures, symmetry, stylization, canons/ proportion, icons in sacred spaces, icons in practice
  • Research potential: icons and the avant-garde, icons and hymnology, East-West Christian traditions
  • Roundtable exchange of ideas

Guest Scholar: Wendy Salmond

Wendy Salmond, professor of art history at Chapman University, Orange, California, is a scholar of Russian and early Soviet art, architecture, and design. She is particularly interested in exploring the intersection of diverse cultural traditions in Russia and in the formation of national identity. She has written and lectured extensively on the Arts and Crafts movement, on Art Nouveau, and on Russian modernism.  Her current project is a book tracing transformations in the perception and function of icons in Russia, from objects of devotion to works of art.

Professor Salmond received her bachelor’s degree with honors in Russian Language and Literature from the University of Otago, New Zealand. She completed her master’s and doctorate degrees at the the University of Texas, Austin in, respectively, Slavic Languages and Literatures and Art History. Professor Salmond has been a visiting curator at Hillwood Museum and Gardens in Washington DC and a guest curator of exhibitions at Hillwood (Tradition in Transition: Russian Icons in the Age of the Romanovs, 2004) and The New York Public Library (Russia Imagined, 1825-1925: The Art and Impact of Fedor Solntsev, 2006).  She is a prolific translator of texts on Russian art and culture, and has edited volumes on the sculptor Sergei Konenkov, the Bolshevik sales of Russian art in the 1920s and 1930s, and the reception of Art Nouveau in Russia.

Professor Salmond teaches courses on European modernism, graphic design history, gender and Western art, art history methods, and Russian art, design, and visual culture of the Imperial and early Soviet era. Her classes emphasize close attention to visual analysis, sustained discussion, and the development of research skills.

Selected Bibliography

Click here to view a selection of references for more information.

Object Lists