Up Close and Personal: Mazza Docent Enlivened by Art
If you’ve visited the University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum, you know that it is a magical place filled with wonderful books, art, and a love of literature. With this abundance of fantastical things, it is tremendously easy to get lost in the magnificence of the Museum. As is the case with any place that is so engaging, when you’re wrapped up in its glory, the fact that there are lots of people who come together to make it what it is isn’t always at the forefront of one’s mind. That, though, is just how the Museum likes it–let the art and the magic speak for itself. But if it weren’t for those people who, behind the scenes, help to create the enchantment, the experience wouldn’t be as perfect.
For Mazza volunteers like Edie Wannemacher, the behind-the-scenes making of the magic can be tedious work; but one would never know that from speaking to them. Wannemacher and the many others at Mazza who donate their time and passion to the Museum often share the notion that it’s just as beneficial for them as it is for the folks who visit. “It is often, in fact, the highlight of my week because of the women I work with and Dan [Chudzinski, Mazza Museum Curator]. Everyone is very friendly and we’re always learning.”
Wannemacher arrived for the beginning of her volunteerism at the Museum when it was still under the care of the late Dr. Jerry Mallett, former assistant professor of education at UF and creator of the Museum. She, herself, had been an educator in its various forms–as a teacher, a principal, and a director–for 36 years, and when it was time to retire, she knew where she wanted to do her philanthropical duty. It was exactly what she wanted to do once she arrived at the Mazza that she wasn’t so sure of. “I definitely did not want to work in an office; I told the liaison for volunteers at the time that I would dust the exhibits and vacuum, even,” she said. “I took docent training and had some tours, but that didn’t really stick with me, either.”
It was when author/illustrator Steven Kellogg made his lifetime donation to the museum that she found her niche. “Jerry was under pressure to get the exhibit completely put away by the time Steven came,” she remembered. “I helped to do that, and apparently did well, because Jerry asked if I’d like to work in the vault.” After matting some 2800 pieces of Kellogg’s work, Wannemacher was where she needed to be within the Museum.
And she’s been volunteering there ever since.
She explained that, in those early days, she and the other vault volunteers spent most of their time doing inventory. They would go through the art, starting with the letter A, and painstakingly move through the alphabet, making sure all of the art was in the right place. The process, she said, would start in January and end in December. “We did that for three years in a row with all of the new acquisitions,” she said. The group had become a well-oiled machine but when Mallett passed in 2015, the machine came to an uncertain halt. For about two months after Mallett’s death, Wannemacher recalled, the vault was closed while the search for a Mazza curator transpired.
Enter Chudzinski, and a change of direction for the vault crew. Wannemacher said that “[Dan] asked us what we knew how to do, to which we answered ‘inventory.’ But, that’s not what we do now. Now, we do everything.”
So, for Wannemacher and crew, “everything” is what they have learned to do. From unboxing new acquisitions, to matting them, to putting them in files, labeling, keeping track, and so on and so forth, they’ve once again become well-oiled, especially when getting ready for a show. “We frame the art, pull the books, pull the cards that identify the art, wrap up and box them. It’s much more extensive than it previously was because we keep getting more and more art,” Wannemacher said.
And it’s very rewarding also. Every Wednesday for a few hours, the group of five women and Chudzinski work closely to make the magic happen, in the Museum and elsewhere. They get art ready for the many galleries in the Museum as well as off-campus exhibits like the Mazza Gallery at the Toledo Zoo. “The cool part is getting to watch the kids see their books come alive; the dedication to literacy, and helping kids get access to it and gain an appreciation for it,” Wannemacher said. “We have such a good time and it’s very stimulating for the mind also.”
In her well-deserved retirement, Wannemacher said she doesn’t often need to pay much attention to the days of the week or the time during those days, since she doesn’t have to get up and go to work. And, since her days are relatively carefree, there are just a few reminders on her phone, and only one of which that she looks forward to every week. “When the ‘Mazza alarm’ goes off and tells me it’s time to work today, I don’t mind at all and actually look forward to it,” she said. “Being here never, ever feels like work.”
And that’s what creating magic feels like.