Idaho College Art Center Begins Restoration Work After Fire

June 22, 2009

Art restoration experts have removed the last pieces of smoke-damaged artwork from north Idaho’s Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History, which was the site of a fire in March.

The restorers from the Chicago-based O’Connell International Arts Inc. took the final items to an undisclosed location.

“These are all people who are very experienced working with wooden objects, paper, print, metal and they have experience in flood and fire restoration,” Kathy Martin, dean of community programs at the college, told the Lewiston Tribune. “This group has come in and packed everything up and they’ve moved it to a safe clean environment where they are now starting the conservation process.”

No one was injured in the fire. It resulted in more than $500,000 in estimated damages to the building.

Fire officials said the fire started after combustible items were placed on a stove in the kitchen and then the stove was inadvertently turned on.

The school said about 20 percent of the building suffered damage in the fire, and that art displays suffered varying amounts of damage from smoke that permeated the entire building.

Several artists had work on display at the time of the fire. Also on display was Nez Perce bead work dating to 1840. On permanent display was “Chinese at the Confluence: Lewiston’s Beauk Aie Temple.”

The location of where the art was taken for restoration is not being released due to security reasons.

“It’s a good clean environment,” said Martin. “It’s climate and temperature controlled, and they use special gloves and respirators while they’re around the objects so they’re not inhaling soot or particles that were left on the surfaces.”

The restorers include Jennifer Tobits, from Chicago, who specializes in paper arts, and George Bryant, a custom wood worker from Spokane.

“A lot of the damage can be stabilized, some pieces reversed, and then there are several items that have damage that cannot be reversed,” said Tobits. “We’re assessing that right now, what we can salvage and, if it can be salvaged, to what degree.”

“I’m cleaning the wooden objects from the museum,” said Bryant. “Most of it’s salvageable. On the upper floor, where the temple was, almost everything is in fairly good condition.”

School officials said the work will take several weeks but they hope to get the artwork back on display in a temporary site soon.

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