When Gail Miller heard Museum Director Ben Sapp say her name and call her to the stage at the Mazza Patron Dinner last month she was totally surprised. Gail’s husband, Bill, and their children had conspired with Sapp to make the night extra special for her by naming the Gail Miller Galleria at the Mazza Museum.
A former 2nd grade and retired substitute teacher, Miller is no stranger to working with children, and though she doesn’t consider herself an artist, art has always had a special place in her home. Her daughter Cindy is a graphic designer; her other daughter Nancy has done murals in churches in Findlay and Columbus; her son Dan is an engineer, and her granddaughter Kelley dives right into the art cupboard in the kitchen every time she comes to visit. Miller’s favorite part about volunteering with the Museum is seeing that same joy on the children’s faces. “The excitement of the children is number one,” she said. “When they look at a preliminary and then see the finished work, they’re able to see the differences, and they get so excited.”
At the Patron Dinner, she looked up to see that the space that displays artwork dedicated by artists and illustrators who’ve visited the Museum had been named for her with the inscription “Gail Love Miller…mother, grandmother & Mazza docent. Her love of kids & children’s literature is shared by countless visitors to the Mazza Museum.” Her husband Bill worked with Sapp to prepare the inscription, careful to keep the gift a secret from Gail, and the entire family came into town for the event. “The Mazza Museum is such a fantastic community asset,” Bill said. “This was a nice way to honor Gail’s connection with Mazza.”
“It makes me feel so good and honored to know that this was something Bill and my family did for me,” she said. “I’ve always felt so close to the people at Mazza. Even as things have changed over the past couple years, it’s happened so smoothly. The people that are there now are just so fantastic and warm.”
Miller first became a docent after taking reading courses and learning about the Museum from Jerry Mallett, Ed.D., founding director of the Museum. In her more than 20 years as a docent, Miller has shared her love for Mazza with countless school tour groups as well as children with special needs and friends who’ve come into town. “You do the tour very differently with each age group,” she explained using the Laiho Gallery featuring paper engineering as an example. “With the young children you spend more time on the animal alphabet cutouts whereas with older children you spend more time on the history of paper engineering.”
One of her favorite works to talk about currently in the Museum is from Adopted by an Owl: The True Story of Jackson the Owl by Robbyn Smith van Frankenhuyzen and Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Miller had the chance to meet the van Frankenhuyzens, see their farm in Bath, Michigan, and some of their inspiration on a study tour with Mazza in 2003. “Because I know the background of him and their family’s love for the owl, it’s one of my favorites,” she said.
Miller sees sharing that passion for books and for art as something Mazza has a unique way of communicating. “There are so many children that don’t understand until they come to the Museum that they can read the pictures first and then the words,” she said. “It’s important to give the love of books to children.”