A man who was inside of the Loveland Museum/Gallery says he saw the woman looking at the artwork by California artist Enrique Chagoya around 4 p.m.
The City of Loveland has identified the woman as 56-year-old Kathleen Folden , a truck driver from Kalispell, Mont.
The piece of artwork that has caused the controversy is called "The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals." A part of the painting shows a man who appears to be Jesus Christ engaging in a sex act with a man. Many have called it "smut" and asked that it be removed. Supporters say it speaks about the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal.
Mark Michaels, an art dealer, says he saw Folden break the glass. He says she then grabbed the artwork and he tried to stop her.
"We were just coming in and were standing at the door and I heard a large - like a thump, and somebody yelled, 'Oh no!' And I looked up and I saw this lady with a nail-puller-type crowbar slamming the Plexiglas case several times until she broke it. And I ran over there and by the time I got there she had reached in and grabbed the print and was ripping it up so I pulled her away from the print and put her in the corner," Michaels said, "and then the police came."
Michaels says Folden was screaming "How can you desecrate my lord?" as she broke into the case.
Michaels says the woman destroyed the lithograph.
"I just took her away from the case. I didn't know she'd gotten the print already. She was ripping up the paper when I was holding her," he said.
Loveland Police responded to the museum and the woman was taken into custody.
Sgt. Jan Burreson with the Loveland Police Department says the woman threw the lithograph on the floor after ripping it up.
"I've been here 16 years and never heard of [anything like this]," Burreson said. "We do have our fair share of controversies, but nothing that's gone this far."
A spokesperson for the City of Loveland says Folden cut herself when she broke into the display.
"It's a very unfortunate incident," Loveland Mayor Cecil Gutierrez said. "There is no place in our city for behavior like this."
Folden is in custody on a charge of criminal mischief, a felony. If she is convicted, the fines range from $1,000 to $2,000.
Police originally got reports of gunfire at the museum, but the city believes it was noise from the banging of the crowbar against the glass to break it and no firearm was involved.
The Denver Post spoke to Chagoya on Wednesday and he said the lithograph that was destroyed was one of 30 prints in a limited-edition run.
"It's sad and upsetting," Chagoya told the Post Wednesday night by phone from California. "I've never had this kind of violent reaction to my art. Violence doesn't resolve anything."
The artwork was the focus of a packed Loveland City Council meeting on Wednesday, where many people asked that it be removed from a publicly-funded gallery. Instead of removing the art, the council asked that a warning be posted in the museum to let people know about the content of the art.
"I think it's very important that we remember that it's an isolated incident. Cooler heads will prevail through this whole process," Gutierrez said.
Tax money did not go toward funding the exhibit because the museum received it for free.
"I tend to be leaning on the side with the freedom of speech and if you don't want to go see it, don't go look at it," Michaels said.
"My work is about critiquing institutions and politics." Chagoya told the Post. "I wasn't trying to portray Christ; it's a collage of cutouts from different books."
Chagoya added that he has received multiple hate e-mails and that protesters have the right to their own opinion too, but, he said, "these things shouldn't escalate."
Bud Shark, the man who assembled the museum display, released a statement on Wednesday evening:
"The destruction of the Enrique Chagoya 'The Misadventures of the Romantic Cannibals' at the Loveland Museum/Gallery today is the direct result of the inflammatory and false descriptions of the piece in the press and by those protesting it's inclusion in our exhibition. The controversial image has been demonized as 'pornographic,' 'obscene' and 'depicting Jesus in a sex act' when none of this is true," Shark wrote. "I deplore the violence and intolerance of this act and call upon those organizing the protests against this piece to restrain their angry mob at once."
(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)