The Biggest Little Museum You Absolutely Must Visit
Do you love children's book art? I admit, I'm a sucker for a beautifully illustrated book. When I visit my local bookstore, you can find me sprawled on the floor with piles of books gazing at gorgeous art. Of course, before it goes into my basket, it must contain a text that is equally as engaging. But, oh - how I love art designed for (and by) children.
In Monday's post, I spoke of my excitement when finding an archive full of old promotional posters designed by well-loved children's book illustrators. I'm still making my list of items I want printed to give as gifts and keep for myself. But, I promised to tell you about the Mazza Museum, which is an incredible place for those who love children's book art.
Located on the University of Findlay campus in Findlay, Ohio, the Mazza Museum holds the largest collection of original artwork by illustrators of children's books. It all started with an idea from a professor of education after the University (College, at the time) granted $2,000 to each academic unit in honor of their Centennial celebration. Dr. Jerry Mallet suggested that the department spend its money on author and illustrator visits and original works of art created for literature. The department agreed and soon found themselves in need of a bigger budget. Dr. Mallet reached out to two alumni who had supported their efforts in the past: August and Aleda Mazza. The Mazzas supported the endeavor and the foundation was established in 1982.
In the 30 years that followed, the foundation quickly surpassed its original goal of adding one piece to its collection per year. Currently, there are over 8,000 pieces from internationally recognized authors and illustrators making it the largest collection in the world. Imagine, entering a room filled with images from picture books by Tomie dePaola, Mary Engelbreit, Ezra Jack Keats, Eric Carle, Peter Sis, Rafael Lopez, Richard Scarry, Patricia Polacco, Maurice Sendak, and so many more. It truly is a place that will transport you back to the best parts of your childhood.
In this age of digital art, it is easy to imagine artists creating pictures for books on their computers, sending to publishers, and perhaps saving original files for their own archives. However, many current illustrators follow what artists have done for centuries - creating original pieces of art using paint, markers, pens, and pencils on canvases, paper, and other tactile sources. When completed, these full size works of art (think large enough to hang as artwork in your home) are shipped to publishing companies to be scanned and layered with authors' texts. But, what happens to the artwork after it's scanned? Historically, it depended on contractual agreements between publishing companies and illustrators. Some were returned to the artists, some were kept in galleries, but many were destroyed. (I. KNOW. When I first learned of this, I gasped too.) Dr. Mallet and the team behind the Mazza Museum work to avoid this. They connect with illustrators and authors to arrange donations or purchase pieces at a reduced cost.
But, the Mazza Museum doesn't exist solely to house treasured works of art. Instead, its mission is to "promote literacy and enrich the lives of all people through the art of children’s literature." Each year it hosts a week-long Summer Conference where world renowned authors and illustrators come to speak. Educators, librarians, and parents flock to hear how artists discover ideas for stories, create illustrations, and give advice for those aspiring to do the same. After a morning keynote, attendees divide into pull out sessions, many of which focus on using literature in the classroom. In the afternoon, there is a keynote from a different author, illustrator, or sometimes both. While the majority of the speakers write and draw for children's books, the staff will, on occasion, schedule someone beloved by adult readers. Mary Higgins Clark was one of my grandmother's favorite authors and the writer in whom we bonded as readers. It was a day I will never forget when she came to speak at the museum. Among a small group of people, I sat not ten feet from her and listened to her speak about the inspiration for some of our favorite books. She later signed a book for me dedicating it to my grandmother, who is no longer living. (I get teary just thinking of it.)
Sprinkled throughout the day are more treasures you won't find at a larger conference. In the morning and directly after lunch, staff members give away prizes, such as autographed copies of books by conference speakers, that you can only win if you're in your seat on time! Pick up copies of the speakers' most popular books for a great deal in the gift shop. Find ways of incorporating literature and art in the stunning murals covering the walls, each featuring artwork by local students created after reading books by that year's speakers.
And twice each day, you can meet with speakers to have your own books autographed. Long time attendees have a tradition of bringing their canvas bags to be autographed each year. I admit, I get a little jealous seeing these bags covered not just with signatures of some of the greats, but original pieces of art drawn specifically for each owner. At the Summer Conference, you'll create new relationships with other educators like yourself from across the country, laugh like you're surrounded by friends, and create memories that last a lifetime.
One of the best things about attending their summer conference is getting the first scoop on author's and illustrator's next projects and what's happening at the museum. In 2011, I was attending when they announced their largest acquisition ever. On a Thursday morning, we walked in to find large blue bins stacked at the front of the meeting room. The room was abuzz with ideas on what they might contain and we couldn't wait for the director of the museum to let us in on the secret. We soon learned that the boxes contained Stephen Kellogg's entire 2,700 piece collection. Included were every piece of art (cover to cover) from 80 of his books. With the help of a hefty donation from Anthony Edwards (yes - Goose/Dr. Greene - that Anthony Edwards), they would become a new permanent gallery. And the university would host a special dedication ceremony that fall in which we were all invited and Mr. Kellogg and Mr. Edwards would attend. Which, of course, I did.
In addition to the summer conference, the museum holds a Fall Weekend Conference in November and occasional workshops throughout the year for adults. Each month, September through April, kids and families can experience arts, crafts, and other activities centered around a literature-based theme on their Funday Sundays. It's a great opportunity for families to spend time together developing their love of books.
Educators can borrow their story and theme kits. Story kits feature book lists, biographical information, and lesson ideas about specific authors, such as Bill Peet, Jan Brett, and Wendell Minor. Theme kits provide lesson ideas aligned to the CCSS and books lists on topics such as poetry, U.S. landmarks, and weather.
Admission to the museum is always free, and a docent-led group tour costs only $25.00. Follow the museum on Facebook and sign up for their newsletter to receive updates on events and learn which artists will present at this year's conferences. Help support their cause by becoming a Mazza Enthusiast or participating in their yearly art auction.
If you live in Ohio, a visit to Mazza is a must. It's an easy drive from anywhere in the state and well worth the price of gas. And I strongly encourage everyone - in state or otherwise - to attend Mazza's summer and fall conferences. You won't be disappointed.
Have you been to the Mazza Museum? I'd love to hear about your experience!
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