Jerry E. Baker (1931-2017)
Jerry E. Baker, renowned south central Kentucky philanthropist, passed away at his home at the Baker Arboretum on Thursday, June 22, 2017. Mr. Baker was a longtime supporter of the arts and humanities in Kentucky, gifting his $17 million estate to WKU for the purpose of education and public enjoyment. Together with Mitchell Leichhardt (1924-2017) and Joe Downing (1925-2007), he founded and constructed the Baker Arboretum and Downing Museum. His history of support for local organizations is unrivaled and will continue to be felt across the region through his philanthropic endeavors. The true image of a gentleman, Mr. Baker will be missed by his many friends and colleagues. His obituary is listed on the JC Kirby & Son's Website.
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The Downing Museum, which officially opened in 2009 as a part of The Baker Arboretum, displays a vast collection of artwork by the late Joe Downing as well as works by other regional, state, national, and international artists. Joe Downing was a world-renowned artist, WKU alumnus and brother of the late WKU President Dero Downing. Baker and Joe Downing were long-time personal friends who collaborated on the design of the Downing Museum.
Surely, the pure beauty of the works of Joe Downing can be observed by all, yet the observations of his niece, Elizabeth Downing, offer an insight to the man, his phenomenal creativity and compassionate spirit:
"We could see the product of his creativity even if we would never fully grasp the way he saw the world. For he saw through a special prism of light, shape, texture and hue. He saw the possibility in every small thing be it paper, fabric, wood, leather or bone. He saw the value in preserving what others had thought could be tossed aside. He saw beauty all around him and he made us feel more beautiful as people, for he also saw our possibilities."
The Downing Museum at Baker Arboretum has the most comprehensive collection of the varied works that Joe Downing created during his lifetime. Looking through these works, one can see his work evolve through changes in shape and color. One can grasp his exploration of traditional media, but one can only wonder at the personal vision that embraced certain found objects and used them to create works of art.
In addition to the Downing collection, the museum also holds pieces that represent Mr. Baker's lifetime of art collecting, with examples from the South Central, Kentucky area, and from national and international artists, as well. Mr. Baker's collections represent decades of his support for the arts in Kentucky as well as his travels both in the United States and abroad.
Exhibits at the Downing Museum represent a lifetime of creative work by Joseph Dudley Downing; a visual journey spanning from his humble beginnings in Horse Cave, Kentucky to his international recognition as an contemporary visual artist. Selections from the museum's collections as well as private collections will give visitors a glimpse into the celebrated career of an internationally renowned artist from Horse Cave, Kentucky. Visitors will learn about the life of Joe Downing as well as the history of the Downing Museum and Baker Arboretum. Other exhibitions highlight select works by local and regional artists. Please check out our exhibits page for more information.
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