By: Olivia Wile
It matches the rest of campus; a low-rise, brick structure with grey letters spelling “The Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Building” on the side. Nestled behind the landmark that is the University of Findlay bell tower, the building itself houses its own piece of history; a hidden gem that teaches us not to judge a book by its’ cover.
Though University of Findlay students attend classes in this building, the Mazza Museum promotes learning beyond just campus. According to its’ website, the Mazza is the most diverse collection of original artwork by Children’s book illustrators in the world. Deputy Director of the museum Kerry Teeple explains how it is an archive embraced by students.
“We have tours with classes,” stated Teeple. “Professors have their students come in for a tour, or they work something about picture books into their curriculum.”
One of these tours includes that of ENIN students at the University. The ENIN course is a writing class designed for international, non-native English speakers.
“That’s just like an immersion tour, they just want to go through and hear English be spoken, and we’re pointing at things,” explained Teeple. “You know it just kind of gets them used to the English language.”
Findlay’s College of Education also makes use of the artwork in the Mazza. Teeple says that Dr. Mary H. Munger, assistant professor of English, has her students visit the museum once a month.
“They look at picture books, different genres, and its using picture books in the classroom, so we are a big part of that,” she explained.
Among their engagement with the campus population, the museum also invites a much younger crowd to its’ gallery. Director of the museum Ben Sapp says the Mazza School Extension program in particular is a cherished partnership for all involved.
“It’s a partnership between the museum and, generally it’s been an elementary school, where they form a committee that comes to the museum to select three works of art, three illustrators to run their program on,” said Sapp.
The program is a nine week, collaborative effort between the museum, picture book docents, and elementary schools. During the program, the docents visit the elementary schools once a week and spend 30 minutes with each class reading the picture books and discussing the art. Two of these “Mazza Ladies” are Cindy Lininger and Sandy Reinhardt.
“They can’t wait for us to come,” said Lininger, “they say ‘oh it’s the Mazza Lady.’”
Docent Sandy Reinhardt says both her and Lininger work with second and fourth grade students throughout the nine weeks. She explains the art they teach about was selected by a committee made up of Jerry Mallett, the founder of the Mazza, teachers, and docents. Reinhardt says the committee chose books based on art in the Mazza they felt would encourage good conversation.
“We kind of have a teaching element, a variety of art media for sure,” stated Reinhardt.
Lininger adds that the various books chosen encourage students to practice a deeper level of thinking.
“We really get them thinking, trying to get higher level thinking skills, and they notice that the pictures compliment the text. The words don’t tell us everything,” said Lininger, “the pictures expand on the story, and they love that.”
The program not only continues to grow in proximity, now accommodating schools from Perrysburg, Toledo, and Sylvania, but also advances technologically. Sapp says last year a live Skype was held between an illustrator and students of Carey Elementary School for the first time in program history.
“They were able to talk back and forth which was a wonderful end to a nine week period of time that they really spent studying both the art and the literature in the books that these artists created,” stated Sapp.
Though the Mazza plays a large role in the lives of these students, it is clear they have a large impact on the museum staff and docents as well.
“Sharing your love for the art with the kids, and getting to see the art through their eyes because they notice things that we don’t notice and it just so sweet,” said Lininger.