Volume 92, Issue 3

Friday, May 29, 1998

big business


Artistic bonfire at art gallery

By Brendan Howe
Gazette Staff

Flames rose more than 20 feet in the air in front of the London Regional Art and Historical Museums on Ridout street Monday night after a sculpture caught fire.

At approximately 9:45 p.m. the London police and fire department were called to put out the fire coming from the Straw Tower, a structure built by LRAHM's artist-in-residence Jerry Pethick as part of an exhibition, also entitled the Straw Tower, opening this Sunday.

Originally 22 feet high, drenched clumps of straw left on the ground are all that's left of what Pethick described as three weeks of work and a lot of effort by several people. When Pethick came to the gallery Tuesday morning and found his work gone he said he was in shock.

"It took me a while to really realize it was gone," he said. "When you put something vulnerable and fragile into the community one hopes that the community is able to absorb the idea that it is a cherished thing."

The police and fire department are both currently investigating the incident and there is a suspicion of arson, said Dave James, assistant chief fire prevention officer.

"It burst into flames and burned straight up," he said, adding because there was no wind the fire did not spread and nearby picnic tables were left undamaged.

The tower, made of 500 wooden stakes and countless bales of straw, was part of Pethick's exhibition and was intended to remain in front of the gallery until mid-September, while the show itself is only running until early July. Catherine Finlayson, chair of the LRAHM board of directors, said the exhibition, however, will still take place.

"The show will still open up as planned and that is the most important thing for the artist," she said. She added it was unfortunate the event occurred, specially when the sculpture was in such a well-lit, high traffic area.

"We've had some vandalism in the past but we're going to review our security to try to ensure we don't have problems like this in the future," Finlayson said.

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Copyright The Gazette 1998