Since 1993, the world’s largest collection of lithophanes (19th-century translucent porcelain plaques) has been housed in Toledo at The Blair Museum of Lithophanes. One of the city’s unique attractions, the Museum moved to the campus of the Toledo Botanical Gardens in 2002, where it has attracted locals and international visitors for the last 18 years. That may soon change, however, as the future for the Museum and its collection (donated by the late-Laurel Blair) is uncertain.
On October 14, the Blair Museum issued a press release announcing that the Museum would soon close its doors, as it was being forced to find a new home. “The Museum has been asked to leave by the Metroparks,” the press release explained. “The Metroparks took over ownership of the Toledo Botanical Garden early (in 2019). The Blair Museum’s Lithophane Collection is currently owned by the City of Toledo.”
Gretchen DeBacker, legislative director for the City of Toledo, said that any pronouncements of the permanent closure of the Museum at its current location are premature. While the Metroparks organization has expressed interest in using the space for other purposes, DeBacker says that there is no immediate plan in place to relocate the Museum.
Timeline for moving
Julia LaBay Darrah, curator and director of the Blair Museum, states that there is, indeed, an imminent timeline for the Museum’s closure. According to Darrah, during a Museum Board meeting in the fall of 2019, the Museum was told that it had one year from the signing of the new agreement with the Metroparks to find a new home. The agreement was signed in September 2019. “I know that, according to the Metroparks, we have a timeline that has started ticking, and we need to be out definitely by September of 2020,” Darrah said.
The Museum’s collection was compiled by Laurel Gotshall Blair, a Toledo native who passionately acquired pieces of the unique works of art for most of his adult life. Lithophanes are molded porcelain plaques formed from a wax model, with carved details. Assembling over 2,400 pieces in his lifetime, Blair donated the collection to the City in 1993, shortly before his death. Currently, the Museum space displays some of the thousands of lithophanes while providing storage for the entire collection.
The collection found a home at the Toledo Botanical Gardens in 2002, as a Museum with a limited seasonal schedule. Part of Metroparks’ goal in finding a new home for the Blair Museum lies in a desire to use the space to bolster the Botanical Gardens’ national reputation.
“The Museum occupies a building in a prime location… We’re looking for something (to occupy the Museum’s current space) that is a more year-round attraction that will be more engaging, to get to that [nationally-known] level that we’re hoping for,” said Scott Carpenter of Metroparks.
Preserving local history
Despite the uncertainty of the collection’s future, the preservation and ultimate destination of The Blair’s pieces remain a priority for the City, DeBacker explained. “We are diligently working on finding a new location,” she said. “We have several options that are in the pipeline.”
“Our main goal is to keep [the collection] in Toledo because it’s part of Toledo history. Our focus is trying to establish a location here,” Julia Darrah agreed.