The Great Icon

St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker

Russian Icons from the Collection of Evelyn LaLanne 

Chapman University's collection of Russian Icons was generously donated by the late Mrs. Evelyn LaLanne of Laguna Beach in 1990. As a former high school teacher, Mrs. LaLanne was passionate about education and shared her collection with the wish that others might learn from these remarkable images.

Icons— religious images typically painted on wooden boards or embossed on metal surfaces—are perhaps the most recognizable symbols of the Eastern Orthodox faith. As windows onto heaven, icons offer a direct connection to God, and, therefore, the promise of divine protection, intersession, and assurance. No Orthodox believer, regardless of wealth or status, goes without such a powerful spiritual conduit. Icons have adorned the walls of churches, rested on the shelves homes, and hung from the necks of believers for centuries. Throughout this long, prolific history, icons assumed new layers of symbolic meaning that became intertwined with the religious, cultural, and political identity of Russia.

Chapman University's collection represents the variety of materials, subjects, and formats that constitute the Russian icon tradition. Mostly originating from the 19th and 20th centuries, these icons capture the complex intersection of new and old, the meeting of modern life and age-old tradition. Although they appear in a variety of media and sizes, the revered images of Christ, the Mother of God, and the saints continue look out at us as they have for thousands of years.

Beneath this seemingly immovable gaze there are often concealed dynamic personal stories which betray the tumultuous reality of late Imperial Russia. With the goal of completely rebuilding Russian life, the early Bolshevik regime championed the elimination of religion through the destruction of religious imagery. Only by enduring a labyrinth of circumstances have each of these icons survived to become a part of Chapman University’s campus art collections.