A touch of make believe is being infused into the Mazza Museum as it wraps up its annual art rotation to introduce different works from its more than 10,500-piece collection of original art from children’s books.
Each year, employees and volunteers work together to formulate exhibition themes. This year, there are classical and popular focuses such “Mother Goose” and works by Rosemary Wells, creator of the popular “Max and Ruby” series of books and television shows.
An updated corollary to the Museum’s literacy and education efforts is fantasy-based learning and inspiration derived from the nature-informed ideas of Dan Chudzinski, who was hired in November 2015 as the Museum’s curator.
An award-winning sculptor and illustrator, Chudzinski holds a master’s degree in fine art from Bowling Green State University. One of his earlier learning labs was the Toledo Zoo, where he participated in a youth program that allowed him to shadow a veterinarian and come into close contact with animals.
Chudzinski characterizes himself as a narrative artist who creates fantasy-based works and develops stories about them. One of his pieces, “Bessie,” a skeleton created to resemble the alleged Lake Erie monster, now hangs in the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion.
“The cool thing they’re allowing me to do here is supplement objects that are fairytale-related,” said Chudzinski. Those pieces and their purpose blend with the museum’s goal of visually promoting literacy. They’re also meant to grab the attention of the ambivalent, Chudzinski said.
“It’s true that education and literature are important. But I think a place like a museum also has to trigger imagination in a child,” he maintained. “You can tell the A students who come here. I don’t feel the need to teach them because they’re already interested. I’m more interested in the kid in the back who is staring at his shoes. How can I teach them without them being aware that they’re learning? How do I pique their curiosity,” he said.
Hence, the museum’s “Dinosaurs and Dragons” exhibit. “Every culture in the world has dragons as mythological characters,” Chudzinski noted.
Concepts such as leadership are also being addressed. A new exhibit, called “Thrones,” showcases art that features people vying for such imperial seats of power. The timing is apropos, given the nation’s November presidential election.
Like each work of art itself, the Museum’s rotation is a thoroughly considered and well-choreographed effort involving several people. Chudzinski compared it to a “a giant symphony.” Addressing one wall at a time, he said it takes about three weeks to complete each full rotation of the approximate 450 works that are displayed at any given time. The ravages of time, temperature and humidity on older pieces not created on archival-quality materials are always taken into account, but so are the needs of younger visitors. Priority pieces are placed first, and “everything has to work together,” he said. “It’s different than hanging a show in a typical museum,” Chudzinski explained. “There are more on the walls here, and we have to hang things lower so that the children can see them.”
Certain pieces, such as Patricia Polacco’s “The Keeping Quilt,” are on permanent display. The “Unusual Media” exhibit is continuing. An “Around the World” international exhibit highlights diversity and multiculturalism. Art is being displayed from some books that have no text.
“All art tells a story,” said Chudzinski.
The curator’s “Bessie” could also be a prelude to other projects that will benefit the Museum, Director Ben Sapp said. Chudzinski may work with undergraduate students “to build a sculpture that could be on display in the future that would highlight some of our future exhibits,” he maintained.
Sapp said Chudzinski “has put exhibits together before that the Mazza Museum has been a part of. We have been very impressed with his work for the last several years.”
Sapp is also enthused about what the Museum will offer for the next several months. “The art changes this year are very exciting and should bring new interest to the Mazza Museum and the University of Findlay,” he maintained.
Additionally, the Museum now has a free mobile app that allows for remote tours, learning and fun.
For more information on the Mazza Museum, tours and programming for all ages, visit www.mazzamuseum.org.