The Blair Museum of Lithophanes was founded by Laurel Gotshall Blair (1909-1993), a native Toledoan whose father had opened the Blair Realty and Investment Company in 1908. Blair Realty was a major developer in Toledo in the 1920s, creating such communities as the upscale Heatherdowns area with its own country club. Mr. Blair attended Scott High School and the University of Michigan, and like his father before him, served as President of the Toledo Board of Realtors.
A born collector, Laurel Blair, first discovered lithophanes in October 1961. He was attending a meeting of some collectors from the International Music Box Society in Berlin Heights, Ohio. There he saw something he’d never seen before; two delicate porcelain pictures - magically illuminated by the sunlight - hanging in the window. He learned they were “lithophanes” and, as he later wrote, he “fell in love.”
Over the next several decades, Mr. Blair, truly a world traveler, amassed the largest collection of lithophanes in the world. In March, 1965, he opened a private museum in his Old West End Toledo home where he exhibited more than a third of his collection of over 2,300 lithophanes.
Prior to his death in 1993, Mr. Blair donated the collection to the City of Toledo. Dedicated volunteers worked diligently for nearly ten years, photographing and cataloguing the collection and overseeing the renovation of a building located at the Toledo Botanical Garden. In July 2002, the new museum opened to the public in that transformed space.
In 2018, Metroparks Toledo assumed control of the Toledo Botanical Graden and shortly thereafter The Friends of the Blair (the nonprofit board that oversaw the collection) was advised of the decision to repurpose the building. The Friends of The Blair Board worked diligently for a year to secure a new home for the collection and meet Metroparks' Toledo September 2020 deadline to vacate. Just ahead of that deadline, in cooperation with the Friends of the Blair and in accordance with the original 1993 agreement, the City of Toledo graciously donated the collection to the Schedel Arboretum & Gardens for public display. After renovations to the manor house the exhibit opens on April 1, 2021, and will be permanently on exhibit in the 1800's manor house at the Schedel Arboretum and Gardens and once again known as The Blair Museum of Lithophanes.