The original structure that would later become the Downing Museum began when Jerry Baker purchased a set of painted antique French barn doors from artist Joe Downing. Baker had collected Downing’s work for a number of years, and wanted to create a “crown jewel” of the newly established Baker Arboretum on his property in the rolling hills on the outskirts of Bowling Green, KY. The “Doors of Life Pavilion” was constructed in 1995 and Baker and Downing began collaborating on an idea for an entire museum dedicated to the work of Downing. After years of planning, the completed Downing Museum opened it’s doors in 2008, a year after Downing’s death. Currently, the museum not only celebrates the life and work of Joseph Dudley Downing (1925-2007), but also acts as an exhibition space for local, state, and nationally-recognized artists. Click the image above for more information on visiting the museum!
The Downing Museum at Baker Arboretum manages the Jerry E. Baker Fine and Decorative Arts Collection. This includes the most comprehensive collection of works by Joseph Dudley Downing, representing a lifetime of creating by the Kentucky-born artist. In addition to the works by Downing, the collection also reflects Mr. Baker’s passion for fine and decorative arts in both South Central Kentucky and abroad. Click the image above to visit our virtual museum!
A permanent exhibit of Downing’s work highlighting his life is on year-round display at the museum. In addition, visitors will experience artwork from local, state, and nationally-recognized artists working in all art mediums. For more information, or to apply for a visiting artist exhibition, please click the image link to go to our exhibitions and programs page.
Born in Tompkinsville on November 15, 1925, Joe Downing was one of eight children born to Aldridge Clifton Downing and Katie Burton (Goodman) Downing. He grew up in Horse Cave, where he attended elementary and high school, graduating in 1943 as valedictorian of his class. Downing spent his youth observing and exploring the caves and landscape around him, unknowingly laying the groundwork for his amazingly creative works of art. Downing’s work has long been known for his unique combination of media and technique, demonstrating a dedication to his personal artistic vision which he proudly acknowledged was rooted in his Kentucky home place.
Following his 18th birthday in November, 1943, Downing was inducted into the United States Army, where he served as an artillery observer in Europe during World War II. He was assigned to a unit that landed at Normandy soon after D-Day and the unit was engaged in a distinguished record of service leading to the end of World War II. Downing, himself, earned the Bronze Star with the citation for courage in action. While in Europe, Downing caught a brief glimpse of Paris, the city that would become his home in 1950 and where he maintained an apartment and studio until his death.
Following his return to the United States, Downing enrolled at Western Kentucky University for a portion of the 1945-46 school year, a time when he began to recognize his enthusiasm for art with the encouragement of Ivan Wilson. Following his parents’ wishes, Downing turned his attention to preparation for a career in optometry when he enrolled in and graduated from the Northern Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. During that time, however, Downing also took classes at the Chicago Art Institute. In 1950, following his graduation, Downing went to Paris for what was to be a three-month stint, only to find that he could not bring himself to leave. In 1952, Downing had his first one-man show, attended by Pablo Picasso, whose simple words of “well done” were encouragement enough to spur Downing on.
Downing’s work is owned by such museums as the Paris Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, as well as the Kentucky Museum in Bowling Green, the Speed Museum in Louisville and the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art. Collectors around the world own his work, and he had showings across the globe, including Tokyo and much of Europe, as well as several shows over the years in Kentucky. Downing’s natural creativity led him to write several books of poetry and, most recently, a book about growing up in Horse Cave.
Horse Cave native and internationally renowned artist Joseph Dudley Downing died December 29, 2007, at the age of 82. Downing passed away in the village of Menerbes in the Provence region of France, a place where he kept a home for over 40 years.