Want to take a quick trip to Russia? You won’t even need your passport. Just head downtown to Broad Street to the L.P. Cline Gallery, next door to Ankar’s Deli. Simply ring the doorbell and you’ll be magically whisked away into the world of Cline’s collection of Russian art. A multitude of wonders awaits behind those doors.
Stunning paintings from the early 1900s to present day line the walls and are perched on stands throughout the gallery. They represent everything Russian: agricultural work, children playing, cuisine and the military art of Victor Donskoi, who paints the magnificent submarines of the legendary Soviet Navy.
My first meeting with Lynn Cline was on a cold, unemployed winter morning looking for work when I first moved to town. I saw the sign advertising the Russian art and rang the doorbell. Upon entering the store, I introduced myself in Russian: “Minya zavoot Chris!” I said. With wide eyes, Cline asked if I spoke Russian and if I was interested in tutoring him. I was more than happy to do so and I landed my first job in the Scenic City. For months, Cline and I sat at his desk as I tutored him in the Russian language and I made a friend for life.
Chattanooga native Cline and his wife, Dianne, started an interior decorating business in 1981 that led to an interest in Russian art and a trip to the heart of that vast country in the late 1990s. The Clines focused on the Voronezh region as a hub to locate their art. Working closely with the Ivan Kramskoi Art Museum, they had the resources they needed to become true ambassadors of Russian art.
Cline possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of Russian art and history. Tables filled with large, ornate books focusing on Russian history and artists are plentiful, and he has practically every detail of each volume memorized. A series of Soviet-Era paintings adorn the walls.
“This is the Collective Farm Series,” Cline said proudly. “During Soviet times, the artists were not free to paint what they wanted. The artists were to present a pleasant view of life and labor on the farms.”
The paintings represent the pinnacle of what is considered the heyday of Soviet art, with rural landscapes, wheat fields and working women on lunch breaks in the shade of horse-drawn wagons situated in beautiful panoramic countrysides. The paintings depict the lifelong work and sacrifice the agricultural life demanded.
Recently, the Clines published their first book dedicated to Yuri Vnodchenko.
“We wanted to pay tribute to one of the great artists, Yuri Vnodchenko of the Voronezh region, by publishing a beautiful book of his life and works,” Cline said. “This is the first of others to come and all monies that come from the sale of our publication will go back into new publications.”
Cline keeps a map dotted with the Russian cities, towns and villages he’s visited over the years, but Chattanooga is home, and he counts himself fortunate to be able to visit Russia frequently while maintaining his residence here.
“It is with great sacrifice of time, money and energy that we continue to bring these wonderful works of art to the U.S. It is worth all the effort when we are told by so many people from other countries and states how fortunate Chattanooga is to have these paintings in our city,” he said.
L.P. Cline Gallery of Russian Art
508 Broad Street 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Monday to Friday
(423) 265-4786 lpcline-russian-art.com