Starting out in 2002 with a donation of seven paintings, The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA) in Minneapolis is now a popular destination housing a collection of more than 13,000 items. On average, about 25,000 people a year travel from all over Minnesota, the U.S. and overseas to visit.
Although the art is that of Muscovite Russia, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and its former republics (more than 95% of the collections originate from Russia within its 1991 borders), the museum itself is an independent American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded by Raymond and Susan Johnson, collectors from Minnesota.
Back then, the Johnsons owned what was thought to be the largest privately held collection of Soviet-era realist paintings outside the borders of the former Soviet Union. The museum was born out of a desire to create a legacy honoring Russian art of the Soviet period with a mission of promoting education, enlightenment, and engagement through art.
“Russian history is very interesting, but I don't feel like everyone knows about Russian art, history and culture, so this museum is a point of discovery,” says Michelle Massey, director of public programs and marketing. “The counterpoint to that is for many Russian immigrants, this is their culture being expressed in an American museum with an American perspective.”
A former church, the renovated historic building is itself a work of art with its Spanish Colonial Mission architecture and soaring arched ceilings. The exhibits change throughout the year, and there’s always something new to see in the museum’s four galleries. Over the years, visitors have seen Soviet-era posters, nonconformist art from the post-WWII Soviet era, holiday ornaments, 20th-century nesting dolls, collections of early 20th-century peasant woodwork crafts, collections of figurines from major Soviet porcelain factories, postage stamps and currency, lacquer boxes, samovars, folk clay toys, and more.
The TMORA Shop is also a favorite among visitors. Describing itself as “A Shop Wrapped in Mystery Inside an Enigma,” it’s filled with select items from small artisans and designers, European markets, small publishing houses, and even an antique dealer in Ukraine. “I like to think of the shop as an extension of the museum,” says Mary Berg, director of retail. “It reflects the design, the fine and folk arts, literature and culinary culture of Russia, and the former Soviet Union.”
One of the main things she often sees and hears in the shop is how emotional people become when viewing the exhibitions. “They make comments about how they have never seen anything like this,” she says.
Adds Michelle, “We also, of course, hear the great love for those masterpieces, the paintings that the collection was founded on and the museum was founded with.”
All proceeds from the shop support the mission and educational programming at the museum, and TMORA hosts these unique and interesting events at the museum year-round.
“We're known for hosting a significant number of classical music concerts in the main gallery at the museum, which in itself is quite unique,” says Michelle. “The Museum has beautiful acoustics. We bring in a Steinway piano and feature internationally renowned musicians.
“In addition, the Museum features theatrical performances, operas, Art After Dark parties, children’s story times, lectures, folk singing, demonstrations of artisan work in TMORA Shop, and more.”
This year, its biggest holiday show ever will take place in the Main Gallery. “It’s called The Wintertime Carnival: Traditions of Old,” says museum curator, Dr. Maria Zavialova. “Another holiday-season exhibition will be The Art of Leon Hushcha. Leon is a renowned Minnesotan artist of Ukrainian descent whose work we displayed before.”
Private parties such as weddings, corporate receptions, and dinners can also be held here. These celebrations take place in the art-filled galleries, which can hold up to 250 people.
Like many nonprofit institutions, TMORA needs the support of those in and outside of the community in order to continue to offer these special collections, exhibitions, and experiences.
One way to show support is by becoming a member. “People can become members of the museum for a really reasonable cost,” says Michelle. “That gives folks the opportunity to come to every exhibition for free and to receive discounts in the shop and for events. They're part of the institution when they support us in this way.” Volunteers are also helpful.
Attending special events is another fun way to show support and at the same time enjoy a wonderful day or evening out. In December, there’s something for everyone, including these amazing offerings:
December 2 – Opening Reception: Leon Hushcha and Olga Volchkova.
December 3 – Rachmaninoff 150: Helen Chang-Haertzen, Richard Belcher, & Denis Evstuhin in Concert.
December 8 – The Seductive World of Anna Karenina: Tolstoy the Private Man and the Inception of a Masterpiece, Presentation by Anna Barker, Ph.D.
December 16 – Story Time in the Gallery.
December 21 – Free Thursday Night on Winter Solstice.
For more information on the museum, located at 5500 Stevens Ave., go to TMORA.org or call 612-821-9045.