Joy in Art: Mazza Volunteer’s Love of Children’s Literature Travels Far

Joy in Art: Mazza Volunteer’s Love of Children’s Literature Travels Far

One lasting goal for University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum volunteers and staff has always been to spread the love of children’s books and their illustrations as far as it can carry. In part, because of volunteers like Cam Taylor ’67, docent and coordinator of the Children’s Art Exhibit at Mazza, this idea periodically takes wing even further than first anticipated.

A perfect example is when Taylor conducted a tour for visitors who were at Mazza as guests of the Arcadia Lutheran Church. The visitors, who were Tanzanian, did not speak English, but were there with an interpreter to learn about what Mazza had to offer. “When we approached a piece of art from Nanta’s Lion [a book by author/illustrator Suse MacDonald about a young Maasai girl and her search for a lion], many of them started to cry,” Taylor remembered. It turned out, she said, that the art represented their tribe and they were crying because they were so touched that someone would write a story about them. Subsequently, Taylor and her late husband Gary started Tales for Tanzania, which developed into presentations to the Mazza docents, churches, civic groups, and others, and progressed into shipping over two thousand books to the country. “A second shipment was made about a year later and we received pictures and letters from the children,” Taylor said. It was a poignant occurrence for Taylor, and one that she still carries with her as a Mazza volunteer.

Taylor’s relationship to UF was formed even before the Mazza Museum was in existence. Her early life saw her a student at then-Findlay College, having graduated from Van Buren High School right outside of Findlay on the way to becoming an Oiler the following fall. She majored in elementary education and music and graduated from Findlay College in 1967, not too long before marrying her Gary in the summer. After a stint as a teacher in Ada, Ohio, the pair moved to Findlay and she began teaching for Findlay City Schools.

About a year after former education professor and founder of the Museum, the late Dr. Jerry Mallett came to Findlay College, Taylor said she took a workshop he was teaching. “He grabbed at my heart with his comments and methods so I asked him if he would be willing to come speak to my class of third graders,” she said. “He smiled and said, ‘When do you want me?’ Thus, began a long friendship.”

That friendship continued into Taylor’s retirement after a long and rewarding career as an educator. Like many teachers before her, she began looking for something meaningful to occupy her time after leaving a career for which she was terrifically passionate. She decided she’d ask her friend if there was anything she could do at Mazza. Taylor explained that Mallett introduced her to Jan Miller and Lee Myers who ran Mazza’s gift shop at the time, and, as a result, she began what has turned into a 26-year volunteer opportunity. “Jerry also encouraged me to take the docent training and that has been a blessing,” she added. “I have contact with children but don’t need to grade their assignments!” She cites the Mazza Traveling Art program, where art and books are taken into classrooms to give children the background of the artists and how they make their books, as another area of enjoyment that has come from her lengthy relationship with the Museum.

Among her biggest delights is Taylor’s job as the coordinator of Mazza’s Children’s Art Exhibit where, in a nod to Mazza’s area of expertise, children imitate the art of established artists of children’s books in a special section dedicated to them. “For years,” she said, “Gary helped me hang the art and was amazed at how talented the children were in making their creations. Now my granddaughter helps and looks forward to hanging the art. It is such a wonderful program and the expression of the students’ faces when they see their art hanging is priceless.” And the love of Mazza spread internationally in this capacity as well, as, after meeting a couple of teachers from Canada on a trip, Taylor said students from their classes displayed art work in the Children’s Art Exhibit for a two-year period.

Taylor has two children, Andrea and Matthew, and five grandchildren, all of whom help to replenish the joy that she gives out so regularly. True to the warm, welcoming and knowledgeable sort of volunteers for which Mazza is well-known, Taylor said she tries to share a smile with everyone she meets as well as learn something new every day. “Working with the staff and the other volunteers has truly enriched my life,” she said. “All of them are great people who care for children and love sharing their knowledge. They truly are a family and encourage each other during stressful times and rejoice when something wonderful happens.”

The Mazza Museum did, in fact, rejoice as a result of the clear impact and affect that children’s art and literature can have across the globe, as evidenced in the special moment with the group from Tanzania. It’s not lost on Taylor that her experience as a Museum volunteer can, and did, bridge important gaps. “It will always be a beautiful memory and one which would not have happened without our relationship with the Mazza Museum,” she said.