It stands to reason that a student who has taken at least one art class every year for the duration of her academic career would have a fairly solid interest in the subject.
For University of Findlay student Breanna Gilbert, however, art isn’t just something she’s interested in; it’s something she’s terrifically passionate about, and that, coupled with her zest for volunteering, makes her an ideal fit for involvement with the children’s illustration program at UF and for the University’s Mazza Museum.
Born and raised in Massillon, Ohio, Gilbert said she remembers drawing and creating at a “very young age,” and that the teachers she’s had over the years have all really helped to encourage her to pursue a career in the visual arts. “By my senior year,” she said, “I knew I wanted to major in illustration.” So, when she would attend college fairs, like high school seniors regularly do, she would always ask the colleges what they offered in the way of the arts and especially illustration. “I hadn’t really heard of Findlay much before, but when I went up to Findlay’s table, once the Mazza Museum and the fact that it holds the largest collection of original children’s book artwork in the world was explained to me, I knew I had to visit,” Gilbert said.
So she visited. And she’s been at UF ever since.
Gilbert is currently a junior majoring in children’s book illustration at UF, and, while she’s heavily involved with the Mazza Museum now, it took her until after her freshman year – a year that is typically spent by students trying to find their path – to really become immersed. “At the beginning of my sophomore year, I started volunteering [at Mazza],” she said. “I would help [Mazza curator] Dan Chudzinski in the vault, matting, framing, and filing various pieces of artwork, along with some Funday Sundays.” This year, she said, she is doing similar things, but instead of volunteering, she has become a student assistant/intern. “I really love working at the Mazza. I am constantly in awe of the beautiful artwork that is created by such skilled artists, and I love the opportunities to get hands-on experience. I love the tight knit community we have here, too,” she said.
And the University of Findlay and its Mazza Museum is, according to Gilbert, the perfect place for her to continue getting that same encouragement and passionate response to art that she’s enjoyed over her time in academia, as it’s abundantly clear that the people at UF and Mazza share in her joy and aspiration. “I’ve always enjoyed hearing Dan talk so passionately about the art we are working with,” she said. “He is always so full of knowledge about the illustrator, the story, and the art of each piece in the archives, and the same goes for the teachers, librarians and others who visit, especially at conferences. They always know so much about children’s books.”
In an effort to soak up and utilize as much art knowledge as she can, Gilbert has also been a regular participant in Mazza’s conferences. She has attended, to this point, two fall conferences and one summer one, and has taken from them a wealth of knowledge and technique. “In general, I’ve learned that every artist and illustrator has their own creative process and that I will too,” she said. “It’s been really cool to see how professionals in the field create their books and it gives me a great frame of reference as I start to learn what my creative process will look like. I keep continuing to come because there is always room for learning and I really enjoy the interactions and meetings with the illustrators.”
As of now, Gilbert, who won’t graduate until next December, said she’s going to stay focused on her studies and learning to hone her craft. “I don’t have a specific plan for after I graduate,” she said, “but some of my dreams are to illustrate several children’s books, work at a greeting card company creating cards, and possibly work at Disney. It’s really been awesome for me to see people so passionate about what they do and how great of an impact books have on children and adults alike. It encourages me to constantly keep learning and not be afraid to geek out and get excited about what I love. I really just want to keep creating!”
Gilbert encourages people to check out her art Instagram account, featuring some of the art she is working on at @bregilbertart.