Amid a row of typical residential buildings in Somerville sits the Museum of Modern Renaissance, an A-frame house with an arched gate and colorful murals covering practically every exposed inch, inside and out. But this is no museum in the conventional sense – rather, it’s the home of Russian artists Nicholas Shaplyko and Ekaterina Sorokina, and soon it may be a National Historic Landmark.
Virtually every surface of the Museum of Modern Renaissance is covered with their artwork, from the front hall that they call the “Parade of Planets” to their workroom that doubles as an indoor garden in winter to the teapot-themed bathroom. The married couple collaborates on every piece, and works from scratch without any sketches in the style that they term “magical realism.” They’ve even created some of the furniture – when asked where he learned furniture making, Shaplyko responded, “I didn’t learn. Just did it.”
The artists call their home a museum in the Ancient Greek sense of the word: a house where muses, or forces of inspiration, are living. Shaplyko reached for a book that he and his wife co-authored – one of six – to succinctly describe the “Modern Renaissance” part of the name: “‘The first renaissance brought beauty and humanity back to society, and we think it’s time to do it again.’”
A rich history
The Museum of Modern Renaissance, located at 115 College Ave. by Davis Square, was originally a Unitarian Church before it became a Masonic Lodge and ultimately, in 2002, Sorokina and Shaplyko’s home.
In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda traveled from India to Somerville, where he delivered a speech for the International Congress of Religious Liberals at the Unitarian Church. As Yogananda is widely considered to have precipitated the spread of yoga in the West, Shaplyko and Sorokina are applying for the building to be a National Historic Landmark in honor of the guru, and ultimately hope for it to be a World Heritage site.
The couple, who value self-realization and harmony tremendously, consider their ideals in line with those of Yogananda.
“All the art is talking and making the harmony, and trying to achieve this pure, ideal harmony. That’s the goal of all real art,” Shaplyko says.
The artists explain that they are spiritual but not religious, saying that religion is an “institution” and wrapped up in making money. As proponents of harmony, they denounce the violence prevalent in much of modern entertainment and enjoy not having a TV in their home.
“We don’t know what happened [outside], but we know what happened in the universe,” Sorokina says.
“If something important happened outside, our friends would call us,” Shaplyko adds.
“The land of opportunity”
Shaplyko first came to the United States in 1992 to showcase the couple’s art in Boston. Here he met then-mayor Raymond Flynn, who took a liking to their work. The artists, who did not know English, then received their green cards and came to Boston with just $20.
“This country is all about immigrants,” Shaplyko says. “This is a cliche like ‘American Dream,’ basically, to create from nothing, to create something, this is a dream. [But] here is a place where the dream can come true.”
The couple travels several times a year to show their work around the world. They explain that seeing other countries and ways of life helps to inspire their art, even if not always in a visibly direct way.
Art imitating life, or life imitating art
Shaplyko and Sorokina open their house to the public a few times a year, offering a space for classical music, opera and yoga. Their next event is March 19 and the artists will share the history of the building as well as some of their newest creations, including several books and animated cartoons.
While many are surprised to hear that Sorokina and Shaplyko actually live in their meticulously decorated home, they explain that one’s environment is crucial to what they say people should strive for everyday: happiness and miracles.
“It’s like you’re going to a tailor and just making a suit which fits you – just you,” Shaplyko says. Sorokina adds, “[It’s] most important to feel happy. Doesn’t matter where you live – organize your space around you to feel happy.”
If you go:
The History of the Museum of Modern Renaissance
March 19 at 7 p.m.
115 College Ave., Somerville
RSVP on Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org
$35 donation including a book of your choice; $100 includes a front row seat and two books.