Tuesday, July 5, 2011


The Blair Museum, with a few of the more than 700 lithophanes, including rare Lincoln portrait; Mount Vesuvius erupting, in blue stained glass frame; the globes and shades of lamps featuring shimmering romantic scenes and landscapes; hanging lamps and household items; a lovely tin church with lithophane windows. Below, Barby in front of the museum and garden with bright blue sculpture,and another framed lithophane, many of which look like quaint illustrations from 19th century texts (and, Barby says, "may well be!").

I went to Toledo Botonical Garden on Saturday, formerly known as Crosby Gardens, to visit with my old friend Barby, who is a docent at The Blair Museum of Lithophanes, a museum on the grounds of the Garden.

I had heard of this collection years ago, when Mr. Laurel Blair lived on Robinwood Avenue in the Old West End. We were living a few blocks up the street. He would open his home every now and then so people could view his ever-growing collection. I never made it inside, although I told myself a thousand times, every time I passed the old Victorian mansion, that I should do it.

Better late than never. I had a lovely tour of the precious collection, bequeathed to Cosby Gardens upon Mr. Blair’s death. What a gift. As the brochure tells us “Lithophanes are three-dimensional translucent porcelain plaques which when backlit reveal detailed magical images. First created in Europe in the 1820s, the largest collection of this 19th century art form in the world is now on view at the Blair Museum of Lithophanes.”

Right here in Toledo, in our own backyard, like Hines Farm and the Blues. The Blair Museum has a varied collection of lithophanes mounted and framed in stained glass, lamps, daily housewares, and craft and art pieces, mostly made in Europe between the 1820s and 1890s. There’s a rare lithophane portrait of Abraham Lincoln as a young man, created in the late 1860s to commemorate his assassination. The lithophane of Mount Vesuius erupting is beautiful. The lamps shimmer. There is also a special summer exhibit of lithophanes by contemporary artist Hannah Blackwell, who studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and spent time in Hungary perfecting the 19th-century methods, which involves painstakingly cutting wax, making a plaster mold, then casting and firing porcelain lithophanes. A book by Museum curator Dr. Margaret Carney, an excellent and informative art history, is on sale in the gift shop area as you enter the cottage museum. The website is fascinating, too (www.lithophanemuseum.org).

Great surprises come in small packages. The Blair Museum of Lithophones is among them. Light, art and imagination come to life in these magical lithophanes, which Mr. Blair had the foresight to collect, preserve, and make available to the public.

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