The Blair Museum of Lithophanes opened this week at the Schedel Arboretum & Gardens in Elmore, a world famous collection that has become a permanent attraction at the beautiful arboretum along the banks of the Portage River in western Ottawa County.
An agreement to bring the fabled Blair Museum of Lithophanes to Schedel Arboretum has been in the works since late 2019, between the City of Toledo, The Friends of the Blair and Schedel Gardens. Ownership of the world’s largest collection of lithophanes, including some 2,300 pieces, was transferred from the city to the Schedel Foundation and will be a permanent exhibit in the newly-renovated 1881 Schedel Manor House.
The hours that the Blair Museum collection will be open to the public will match the hours the gardens are open — Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.– 4 p.m. (8 p..m. on Thursday) and Noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, through Oct. 31.
The Schedel Arboretum & Gardens is located in the historic Village of Elmore at 19255 West Portage River South Rd. Additional information about the Blair Collection and Schedel Gardens is available at schedel-gardens.org
Toledoan Laurel Blair assembled the collection during his world-travels over many years. Founded in 1965, the museum was originally located in Blair’s Old West End home in Toledo. Concerned about the integrity of the collection as he grew older, Blair reached an agreement with the city to take ownership of the collection prior to his death in 1993.
Lithophane is a European decorative art form dating to the early- and mid-19th century in which detailed images were carved by artisans into beeswax, cast and fine layers of translucent porcelain added. When the lithophane is backlit, typically by lamp or candle before the electric light, the lights and darks in the carving are seen in minute detail, making the pieces look three-dimensional.
“The lithophanes were used in practical ways as candle shields, night lights, fireplace screens and tea warmers. They were also formed to make the panels for lanterns,” said Julia LaBay-Darrah, who will continue in her role as the museum’s curator and director.
The collection was moved from the late Laurel Blair’s home to a building in the Artist’s Village at Toledo Botanical Garden. In 2018, the City of Toledo transferred ownership and control of the Toledo Botanical Garden to the Toledo Area Metroparks. In 2019, Metroparks
notified the Friends of the Blair Museum, Inc. – a nonprofit group that supports the collection – that the building needed to be vacated by September 2020.
The Schedel Manor House was renovated last year to accommodate the museum, with support from the Friends of the Blair and Blair’s family.
Rod Noble is the Executive Director of the Schedel Arboretum & Gardens and the Joseph and Marie Schedel Foundation, the nonprofit foundation accepting the donation of the collection from the City of Toledo.
“I saw an article in the Blade in 2019 about the Blair Collection losing its home and immediately thought there probably isn’t a better place for it than right here,” Noble said. “The manor house that will be the new home for the museum was built in the 1800s at a time when lithophanes were being extensively created in Europe, so there’s even a little historical context,” he added.
Joe Schedel, the founder of Schedel Gardens, was a German immigrant to the U.S. in the early 1900s.
“Laurel Blair traveled the world collecting these lithophanes, and we really want to keep it in the area. That’s our goal. It’s a part of Toledo’s history,” said Patricia Scharf, President of the Friends of the Blair Board. “This is such a unique and extensive collection. We have pieces that are one of a kind, that are rare, that no one else has. They should be accessible to the public, where that they can be appreciated and funded. Schedel Gardens is the perfect spot.”
Several events for supporters and the public are being planned for the grand opening of the museum and exhibit, all to be sponsored by the Taylor Automotive Family.
Noble explained that Schedel Gardens is the legacy of Joe and Marie Schedel who traveled in over 120 countries during their 50 years at the estate in Elmore collecting art, antiques, archaic bronze and antique carved jade – and plants.
“They loved nature and the arts and I believe having the Blair Collection displayed here is a great addition to their legacy,” said Noble. The 17-acre garden estate includes thousands of annual flowering plants, unique species of trees including a grove of dawn redwoods, a world-class bonsai display and many themed gardens and over 20 pieces of large sculpture incorporated into the landscape.