Eugene and Marjorie White looked into the Mazza Museum, located in the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion on campus, with pride in their eyes and a sense of a child’s jubilee in their hearts.
“We have experienced the Mazza since its inception; there were only four paintings,” Eugene said.
“It’s been so much fun to watch it grow,” his wife Marjorie interjected.
The White Discovery Loft, named for the couple because of a generous donation, opened on Oct. 2 to provide a new interactive space for children to learn and grow. The Whites’ donation made the space possible, and the collaboration of UF students and faculty turned the dream into a reality.
Jerry Mallett, Ed.D, curator of the museum, oversaw the completion of the loft area.
“It’s not for pre-school or play-school; it’s a learning environment where children are inspired,” said Mallett.
The construction of the loft began in the fall of 2011. Lauren Bagley, a fifth-year intern who graduated from Findlay with a bachelor’s degree in children’s book illustration, was tasked to complete a mural on the walls surrounding the loft. The mural depicts childhood stories such as “Alice in Wonderland.”
The project was Bagley’s first-ever mural and includes a seek-and-find element for both children and adults. The seek-and-find helps viewers look past their expectations and see the reality.
“Around the third grade, we become visually illiterate,” said Ben Sapp, director of the Mazza Museum. “Adults are too focused on the obvious.”
Mallett is the mastermind behind the loft’s theme, but he left the design up to his team of artists, designers and workers.
Matt Stimmel, UF technical director of theatre, was responsible for the carpentry and had complete freedom with his designs. With the exception of the miniature library, Stimmel created all of the woodwork, tables and activity boards in the loft.
“The way we all worked together was highly creative. It was inspiring to work this way,” said Stimmel.
Kelsey Rich, a senior art major, is responsible for the lively characters children see as they move from station to station.
“… [Mallett] would occasionally give me a general idea, but then it was up to me to make the characters come alive,” said Rich.
Some of Rich’s favorite pieces include Tina and Tommy T-Rex and Olivia the Octopus. Her other designs include ghosts and other animals.
The loft consists of several interactive stations that encourage children’s learning and creativity. There is a library where young wordsmiths can use magnets to make sentences, a sand pit for the young artists to draw shapes and put their creativity to work and a slide for the kids to return to the first floor when they are ready to leave.
“The slide looks like so much fun,” said Eugene White. “But with my luck, I’d get stuck.”