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Published: Thursday, 12/22/2005

$1M gift completes Findlay museum fund drive

Michael Gardner, Jr., 11, and Philip Gardner, 5, sons of donor Michael Gardner, view part of the
collection at the Mazza Museum. Construction of an addition will begin in the spring. Michael Gardner, Jr., 11, and Philip Gardner, 5, sons of donor Michael Gardner, view part of the collection at the Mazza Museum. Construction of an addition will begin in the spring.

FINDLAY - An art collection that began with four pieces and now consists of more than 3,000 will soon have a larger home at the University of Findlay.

The university announced yesterday that with a $1 million donation from Michael and Robin Gardner, it had raised a total of $2.4 million to build an 8,000-square-foot addition to the Mazza Museum of International Art from Children's Picture Books.

"Who would've thought 23 years ago with four pieces of art?" Jerry Mallett, founder and director of the museum, said after the news conference. "We have plans. We think big."

The museum bills itself as the first and largest teaching museum in the world to specialize in original artwork from children's books. Richard Beckett, president of UF's board of trustees, said the Mazza was also "now the leading draw to the city of Findlay and to the University of Findlay."

The museum had a humble beginning in 1982 when two UF alumni, August Mazza and his late wife, Aleda, contributed toward the purchase of the first four pieces of art valued at $1,700.

The collection, which grew slowly at first, was initially housed in the basement of Shafer Library then moved in 1994 to the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion.

It was Mrs. Gardner's son, Michael, owner of Findlay-based Superior Trim Inc., whose donation rounded out the latest fund-raising campaign.

Mr. Gardner said his mother started dabbling in painting in the 1980s, but he did not take her work too seriously at first.

Three years after her death in 1991, his first son was born and he and his wife hung one her "cute raccoon" paintings in his bedroom.

"That taught me that art communicates not only from person to person but from generation to generation," Mr. Gardner said.

Construction on the addition is set to begin this spring.

The project will feature a children's art studio where young visitors can learn the art of creating picture books. It also will include a classroom, an art resource library, a storage vault, a preservation and restoration center, and a gift gallery.

DeBow Freed, president of UF, said the Mazza expansion "will have a multiplying effect" because of the increased number of people who will visit it for tours or educational programs.

"And it will be great to have a building on campus that is paid for when it is built," he said with a laugh.

Mr. Mallett said that when the university launched the fund-raising campaign in February, 2004, the effort was not expected to take nearly two years.

"We didn't realize at that time that in Findlay and Hancock County there were five other [fund-raising] campaigns starting at the same time," he said. "It took a little longer than we thought, but the end result is the same."

The university plans to dedicate the new addition in 2007, which is the Mazza Museum's 25th anniversary.

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.

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