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2019 Bulletin #112

Laurel Blair with a small portion of his lithophane collection, c. 1965. Photo by Steve Warren

Blair Museum of Lithophanes

Presents 2019 exhibition

Vision: the special sense by which the qualities of an object (such as color, luminosity, shape, and size) constituting its appearance are perceived through a process in which light rays entering the eye are transformed by the retina into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain.

Bulletin #112

Vision describes the beauty and magic that lithophanes bring to the viewers. This exhibit highlights the splendor of not only the magical images that appear within the lithophanes but also the detail in the stained glass that surrounds them, while highlighting their use in the home. With the Blair Museum being in Toledo, which is known as the Glass City, and also situated almost next to the Toledo Stained Glass Guild, it is a very significant highlight.

Most lithophanes that one encounters in the 21st century are plaques that have been incorporated into lamp shades, candle shields or other objects created in the 19th century. What one seldom witnesses is the lithophane in its originally intended environment – part of a home. Usually a lithophane formed the central feature of a window or door, surrounded by colorful stained glass. In the United States there are many homes dating from the 19th century, yet seeing a lithophane in situ is a rare occurrence.

Despite the popularity of lithophanes in Europe and in the United States, it was not common to have lithophanes mounted as more-or-less permanent architectural fixtures in doors and windows. These special instances would have involved the lithophanes being selected as a feature prior to the design or renovation of a home.

Window with nine lithophanes, 19th century, German, overall 19.375” x 16.75”. On view at the Blair Museum of Lithophanes

The Windows at Armsmear with lithophanes, former home of Samuel Colt, Hartford, Connecticut, shown with inset lithophanes, c. 1856. Courtesy of the Wadsworth Atheneum

Samuel Colt’s home in Hartford Connecticut is a wonderful example of how extravagant lithophane use was mounted in doors and windows. In the original Colt mansion there were over 100 lithophanes. Unfortunately, because of a modern renovation they have been removed and are now in the collection of Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford Connecticut.

Samuel Colt, certainly did not have a cell phone into which he gazed, but his enchantment with Lithophanes very likely reflects his artistic sensibilities and skills in industrial design, which he applied to arms manufacture. Mr. Colt's collection of Lithophanes illustrates his fascination with Vision, the theme of this show, plus the link between art and industrial design throughout the ages.

The Lithophanes in the windows at the Glen Iris Inn allow a visitor in the 21st century to appreciate how the installation of lithophanes would have embellished the grand homes of the late 19th century Victorian period. It is a rare reminder of a different aesthetic in an era not that long ago. Today the Glen Iris Inn is a favorite dining and overnight destination nestled in the beauty of Letchworth State Park, Castile, NY.

Details of lithophanes installed in the entry way side panels of The Glen Iris Inn, image from bulletin #99

View from the interior downstairs hallway facing the entrance, of The Glenn Iris Inn, showing eight 19th century lithophanes, in situ.

Mr. Blair was fortunate enough to visit The Glenn Iris Inn and wrote about his experience in Bulletin #9, dated July 1977. He remarked about how the lithophanes which are placed in the window openings on each side of the main doorway to the Inn, go largely unnoticed when the door is open. For more information about the restaurant and Inn, contact The Glen Iris Inn 585-493-2622 or visit their website at .

From left to right and currently on view three stained glass doors, 2601 with 3 lithophanes 18”X55”, 2879 with 3 lithophanes 16”X64”, 2878 with 3 lithophanes 18”X55”

What is old to you, may be new to me--and what is new to you may be old to me. This statement reflects a truth about learning about both inventions and art created in the past--plus the deciphering process necessary in the present moment to understand the enduring relevance of an artwork. In regard to appreciation of lithophanes illuminated from natural light, candles, or LED bulbs the surfaces of the plaques shimmer or shine with different intensities. Thus, the individual beholding the lithophane experiences a personal moment of illumination or appreciation. Visual spontaneity is a particular joy in lithophane-viewing.

The Museum is currently undergoing a transition to be lit entirely by LED lights. The light quality emitted from the LEDs enable the viewer to appreciate the detail in the lithophane images much more clearly.

The founder of the Museum, Laurel Blair, (as pictured on cover) loved to utter the words: “Light up your life with lithophanes.” Help keep the life and spirit of the Blair Museum of Lithophanes alive. All financial, docent, and other assistance to the Museum is deeply appreciated.

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