Dallas: Year after devastating fire, center slowly restoring art, planning its reconstruction

The fire devoured the 20-by-124-foot Miracle at Pentecost painting and damaged every other piece of art in the building at 7500 Park Lane in North Dallas.

Mattie Caruth Byrd, granddaughter of Dallas pioneer William Caruth, founded the Biblical Arts Center in 1966 when she commissioned Torger Thompson to paint Miracle at Pentecost.

D. Harold Byrd Jr. said his mother envisioned a museum where people from different backgrounds could enjoy art inspired by the Bible. Mrs. Byrd died before the museum's expansion and public opening in 1981.

Demolition started in March. The process is moving slowly as engineers test each piece of the structure to determine what is salvageable, Mr. Peck said. Groundbreaking on the reconstruction is scheduled for fall. The goal is to rebuild the museum by fall 2007.

The front entrance - a re-creation of Jerusalem's Damascus Gate - shows no signs of the devastation. But opening the door reveals gaping chunks missing from the roof, soot-stained walls and the aroma of charred wood.

"It seems so much smaller," Mr. Peck said last week as he scanned an open space once occupied by the atrium, gift shop, three galleries and the Garden Tomb exhibit.

The museum welcomed more than 50,000 visitors annually. It hosted traveling collections by artists including Rembrandt, Norman Rockwell and Marc Chagall.

About 2,500 pieces of art were damaged. Most belonged to the center, but a number were on loan from private collections and other museums. Some works survived the flames, Mr. Peck said, but everything suffered heat, smoke or water damage.

"It's amazing what smoke and soot can do; it's really terrible," he said. "But at least you can get it cleaned; it's not all burned up. It's amazing how good they look."

Dallas sculptor Bob Hogan, who judged shows for the museum and exhibited there, calls the loss of Miracle at Pentecost tragic. But he sees new opportunities.

"A lot of people before thought it was about one painting, and it's not. It's about so much more," he said. "I hope that it becomes something bigger than it ever was because of this.

The Biblical Arts Center operates through a trust established by Mrs. Byrd. Though the museum has received some donations and an insurance settlement, the amount of which Mr. Peck declined to reveal, it still needs $2 million to fund reconstruction.

The M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation gave a $50,000 grant to pay for a new development director. That person will start work July 1 and will seek grants and launch a capital campaign.

"The future is bright, but we need the support of the community," he said. "We serve a unique mission. It's a unique treasure and jewel for the city and the nation.

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