Ohio – Toledo: An Unscheduled Stop

We made a detour to visit with friends on the way home and suddenly Toledo, Ohio, was on our route.  Since we hadn’t planned for this stop a quick internet search brought two museums into our day and into our ever-growing museum collection.

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is HUGE and it is housed in a magnificent, classical building set in a beautifully landscaped 36-acre campus.  We were pleasantly surprised when we approached the admission desk and learned that there was no charge (there is an $8 charge for parking, but veteran parking is free). 

The inception of the museum came in the late 1800s when a group of city leaders began planning a museum to help educate and inspire the citizens.  With the generous support of Edward and Florence Libby (of the Libby Glass Company), the TMA was officially founded in 1901 and has continued to expand and serve the community ever since.  The main building with its marble facade and Greek columns opened in 1912. 

An expansion in 1933 included the addition of the Peristyle Theater with its 28 Ionic columns and classic design of an Ancient Greek amphitheater.  The Center for the Visual Arts, designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry, opened in 1992 on the campus of the University of Toledo.  It holds the museum’s vast reference library.  In honor of the Museum’s centennial in 2001, the Georgia and David K. Welles Sculpture Garden was introduced, and in 2006 the Glass Pavilion, with its award-winning architecture, opened across the street from the main museum.  The museum complex, as it stands today, surely must vastly exceed the earliest expectations of its founders. 

The bright colors and smiling face of “Apollo” by Henri Matisse greeted us on the lower level of the museum.  From there we were introduced to the history of the museum through a series of historic photos, and we viewed some pieces from the Libby Doll Collection.  The museum staff and guards were very friendly and seemed to take a strong interest in assisting with questions. 

On the second floor we walked through galleries with treasures from ancient Egypt and Asia, Europe and the Renaissance, early American art and on into works by the Impressionists and then we transitioned into galleries filled with modern and contemporary pieces. 

In addition to paintings, the galleries are textured with sculpture and a wide range of fascinating artifacts like this playful colored glass window from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Avery Coonley Playhouse in Riverside, Illinois.  We enjoyed the craftsmanship in these wrought iron doors and this magnificent teller’s window designed by Louis Sullivan.  Imagine walking up to that elaborate iron work to cash a check or make a deposit. 

Remembering the Libby Glass connection, we paid special attention to the variety of styles of chandeliers in the galleries. 

We were stopped in our tracks by the TMA’s Netsuke Collection.  A small jewel-box of a gallery held hundreds of exquisitely carved little netsuke on display in glass cases that allow for close-up almost 360-degree viewing.  Informative signs explain netsuke, its various styles, what to look for and how to understand this Japanese art form that has fascinated artists and collectors over the years.

Back as early as the 17th century, when kimonos were the fashion of the day, men had no pockets, so they used a small container that hung from their sash to hold things like tobacco, money or medicine.  These little containers were attached with a cord that was secured in place by netsuke, which are small carved pieces with two holes discretely worked into their design to accommodate sash cords.  Netsuke are usually made of ivory, but other materials like coral, wood or a nut are occasionally used. 

Many of these figures instantly delight with their intricately carved surfaces.  I long to pick them up and turn them around in my fingers to see all the detail, down to individually carved fingers and toes or the pattern in their woven garments.  At the same time, many of them represent ancient myths and stories.  I find myself drawn by the animal carvings and by people wearing traditional dress and carrying objects from their trade or daily life.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, we next moved across the street to the Glass Pavilion, which is a see-through building that lives up to its name.  A magnificent chandelier by Dale Chihuly hangs at eye level in the entry hall and just beyond that is the “Hot Shop” where students were engaged in learning about and making things of glass.  We strolled the pavilion’s five galleries, which are filled with magnificent works from floor to ceiling, and we enjoyed the history of glass presented in the Glass Study Room.  After this visit, I will never again look the same way at the day-to-day Libby glasses we have in our kitchen cupboards.  What a grand and generous gift the Libbys and other generous contributors have bestowed on the citizens of Toledo and on visitors from around the world. 

Don’s fascination with fire department memorabilia and history meant that we had to make a visit to the Toledo Firefighters Museum, which is one of the finest fire museums in the country.  It was started in 1976 to preserve local firefighting history and artifacts, and to help educate the public about fire safety. 

We toured the first floor and enjoyed their collection of trucks, dating from the 1837 Neptune, the city’s first hand-drawn pumper, on up to more current style apparatus.  The walls were filled with buckets, rattles, muffin bells, sprinkler heads, hose nozzles, alarm boxes, hooks, axes and ladders…generations of fire department equipment. 

We were told that the second floor was primarily an area for fire education and children’s activities, but after they realized the depth of Don’s interest, they escorted us upstairs and showed us their archives, which are also housed on the second floor. 

The museum’s collection focuses not only on the equipment involved in fighting fires, but also tells the stories of the heroic men and women who have served the citizens of Toledo for almost two hundred years.  Photographs and portraits are on display as well as special jeweler-made badges worn by or honoring these notable figures.  Silver speaking trumpets boast of muster competitions won, and there are shelves and files of historic reference materials to be explored by those who chase history instead of fires.   

One of the men we talked with was a fourth-generation firefighter and an articulate historian who shared stories that brought the objects alive as he told us how they related to the men who had served over the years like Chris Wall who came to the department in 1877 as a hoseman and eventually worked his way up to chief in 1890.  During his tenure, eight new fire stations were added to the roster as the city’s population expanded to over 150,000.  There were so many stories…the museum deserves a visit from a historic standpoint, but also to learn more about fire fighting, prevention, and how firefighters are serving our communities every day. 

By the time we left Toledo we realized we had only scratched the surface of this city and its history.  We have since learned of a colorful chapter when Ohio and Michigan got into a dispute over the state’s border that resulted in the Toledo War of 1835.  The outcome of the conflict finally set Toledo in Ohio and ceded the Upper Peninsula to Michigan.  On our next visit we will have to poke around to learn more about that story. 

Although Toledo had not been part of our original travel plans, we were delighted with what our rerouting brought us.  Now we were truly on the last leg of our travels and were headed back to Maine.  The journey in all from Portland to Glacier National Park and back took us over 6,535 miles of discovery.

FOR MORE ADVENTURE: This is Part 12 of 12 in our drive from Maine to and from Glacier National Park.  If you would like to follow along with us, the first installment was Des Moines, Iowa, and the next stop is at Brushy Mountain Penitentiary in Tennessee.

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