Artwork restoration plans underway after Downing Museum fire

A third of the artwork from the Downing Museum is being held in the Kentucky Museum as conservators could inspect the damage as early as next week.

Elliott Pratt

Plans are now underway to restore the artwork that received smoke damage in Thursday’s fire that destroyed part of the Downing Museum at the Baker Arboretum.

A third of the artwork has been stored at the Kentucky Museum. The other artwork is being held in storage space at Service Supply and Airgas on Industrial Drive.

Head of the department of library special collections Timothy Mullins said about 10 percent of the artwork salvaged from the flames will need more intense treatment to restore it back to original form.

“To some extent everything needs at least a light cleaning,” Mullins said. “It may not need conservators, but certainly everything needs treatment.”

Artwork with the most severe smoke and water damage is being held at Service Supply while the pieces at the Kentucky Museum are those with the least damage.

Temporary air units have been moved into the museum where the artwork is stored to vent out the smell of smoke.  All of the artwork will eventually be moved to the Kentucky Museum for inventory.

Mullins said a conservator from Nashville could be in as early as the beginning of next week to inspect the damaged art.

“Conservators are few and far between,” Mullins said. “They are the ones that will do the inspecting and making the final decisions on things. We will help them in the best way we can by getting estimates and evaluations, but they are going to be the ones to decide what happens to these art pieces.”

While plans to restore the art are underway, reconstruction of the museum is in the works as well.

President Gary Ransdell said in an email Friday that the Planning, Design and Construction team is working with restoration experts and insurance professionals to start the recovery steps for the art and the museum building.

The Jerry Baker Foundation maintains and operates the property at the Baker Arboretum and will meet with insurance companies to assess damage costs.

PDC director Bryan Russell said he and his staff will be ready to help with any future plans.

“I personally have called and offered assistance if they need us in any way for when the auditors come,” Russell said. “Right now, it’s in the hands of the insurance company and what they conclude.”

Mullins said it’s difficult to put a timeline on the restoration completion of the artwork saying it could be any where from a one to several years. If the collection is ready at the appropriate time, Mullins said he would like to display it at the museum.

“We would want to put stuff out in an exhibit to say to everyone that it is indeed here and it wasn’t lost in the fire,” Mullins said.