Yeast magnate’s offer could give rise to museum

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 15

It’s likely Toledo has never received $102,000 from a yeast magnate for some carved wax.

But that’s the odd prospect council members will face today, when they decide whether to sell off the less interesting part of an art collection to pay for a museum to display the remainder.

“Most of what we’re selling is boring, I’ll tell you that,” said Greg Knott, an Old West End resident who is helping with the sale.

The unusual objects being sold are carved wax sculptures, one of many quasi-artforms collected by the late Toledo real estate agent Laurel Blair. His other, much greater passion was lithophanes, a Victorian form in which images were engraved onto one side of a sheet of porcelain.

Mr. Blair collected millions of dollars worth of lithophanes, easily the largest collection in the world, and in 1993, a few months before he died, he gave the collection to the city with the assurance that it would be displayed.

That hasn’t happened yet, but the collection’s advisory board has found a future home in the Toledo Botanical Gardens. The last hurdle is paying for display cases.

So city leaders are trying to sell off the carved wax sculptures, considered secondary to the main collection, to pay for the museum’s final touches.

The sculptures were appraised by Sotheby’s of New York City and Christie’s of London, but they eventually found a buyer right here in Ohio: Cincinnati’s Charles Fleischmann, of the Fleischmann’s Yeast empire. Mr. Fleischmann was traveling in Switzerland yesterday and could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Knott said he is a longtime wax aficionado.

Among the 400 items for sale: a life-sized model of a male cadaver (nicknamed “Anatomy Man” by city officials) and dozens of tiny models of kings and queens.

If council approves the sale today, Mr. Fleischmann will pay $102,000 – and the museum could open up in the botanical garden sometime later this year.

In other business, council will consider:

* Spending $500,000 for infrastructure improvements at the Toledo Edison steam plant. A group of Cleveland developers has proposed an $8.2 million renovation of the 103-year-old plant into an upscale apartment complex and riverfront restaurant.

Administration officials are pushing the project but, in the last few months, at least six of council’s 12 members have said they oppose it. City officials said the ordinance likely would be sent to a committee for further consideration.

* Creating a municipal power company as an alternative to Toledo Edison. Some companies considering relocating to Toledo have complained that Edison’s high electric rates discourage them, so some city leaders are urging the creation of a utility, to be called Toledo Public Power, offering lower rates.

Whether council acts on the proposal may depend on whether Edison officials can reach an agreement to provide energy to Steel Dynamics, Inc., a steel minimill considering locating a facility in East Toledo.

* Approving two pedestrian bridges St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center wants to build across Cherry Street to main building to its expanded outpatient center.

The hospital hopes to have the bridges, which will be between Yates and Mark streets, completed by June, 1999.