Downing Museum Art on WKU Campus Following Fire at Baker Arboretum

Jun 27, 2013

The scene Thursday morning at the Downing Museum at the Baker Arboretum in Bowling Green
Credit Joe Corcoran

Art lovers across the region are holding their breath and hoping that paintings damaged in a Bowling Green fire can be salvaged. The fire Thursday morning at the Downing Museum at Baker Arboretum led to the evacuation of the world's largest collection of paintings by the late artist and Hart County native Joe Downing.

Art restoration experts will now have to inspect the damaged paintings and recommend what, if anything, can be done to save the pieces that were damaged.

WKU President Gary Ransdell says the fact that over 90 percent of the art in the building was removed before it was damaged is a testament to the staff members on the scene.

"They were actually going into a building that was on fire to get artwork out. It was pretty amazing to see multiple staffs, including WKU staff, coming together to avoid what could have been a tragic, tragic, situation," said Dr. Ransdell."

The WKU President says the Downing Museum art is now being housed at the school's campus.

"All of the artwork has now been transported to the Kentucky Building, and is in storage and is protected. The art that has been damaged by smoke and water is over in the services supply building where the art restoration experts will look them over and determine what needs to be done immediately, and what needs to take place over time.

Staff members on the scene rescued the majority of Joe Downing paintings from the burning facility.
Credit Joe Corcoran, WKU Public Radio

Tennessee painting conservator Cynthia Stow told WKU Public Radio that restoring paintings damaged by a fire is difficult--but not impossible--work. She says water damage is often the main culprit in destroying paintings following a fire.

"Water damage can wreak havoc on the entire structure of the painting, because it can shrink a canvas, causing the paint to buckle, or the paint might even come off if the water damage is severe enough," said Stow.

Investigators from the state Fire Marshall's office are working to determine the cause of the fire. There were no injuries reported.