Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Attending the Mazza Museum Conference was Pure "Bliss"

Back in March my wife presented me with an envelope on my birthday that included a piece of paper that read: "What do Candace Fleming, Harry Bliss, Nick Bruel, Seymour Simon, and Eric Van Raepenbusch (that's me!) have in common?  They will all be in Findlay, Ohio for the Mazza Museum Summer Conference."  I was speechless as I read through the itinerary for the conference.  I was going to be able to meet many of my favorite authors and illustrators plus many others that I wanted to learn more about including Eric Rohmann, Chris Gall, Anita Silvey, Richard Cowdrey, James Warhola, Cheryl Harness and John Manders. The only problem was that I would have to wait three and half months!

Last week (July 11-15, 2011) turned out to be one of the best birthday presents ever. Each day was highlighted with at least two keynote speakers followed by pullout workshops on various topics and autograph sessions. There was also plenty of time to view the original pieces of art in the galleries, spend lots of money in the Mazza Museum Gift Shop, and talk with the wonderful Mazza staff and Enthusiasts.

On Monday, the first keynote was presented by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann.  Together they presented their upcoming book, Oh No!. Fleming perfected the text for the book after a trip with Rohmann and her son to Borneo.  After reading the manuscript, Rohmann asked Fleming if he could illustrate the story.  Fleming followed up jokingly, "Well, my editor may not want you."  The Seven Impossible Things has a few illustrations made by Rohmann for the book.

The second keynote was given by Harry Bliss.  He is best known in the children's literature world for the illustrations in the Diary of a Worm Trilogy by Doreen Cronin.  During his presentation, he shared his published cover art for The New Yorker and many of his cartoons.  He also read to us from his upcoming book Bailey. He wrapped up his presentation with one of his slightly objectionable YouTube videos (that have mysteriously vanished from the site?).  In the Q and A session after the keynote someone asked if he would ever publish a graphic novel.  He responded by saying, "Graphic novels are comic books which are too much work. I am far too lazy."

After Monday I didn't think it could get any better...

On Tuesday, the day started off with a presentation from Denise Fleming.  She shared a video on her illustration process of pulp painting and shared stories about most of her books.  I was surprised to find out that some of the illustrations in her book Where Once There Was a Wood had up to 23 layers of pulp! Denise Fleming's enthusiasm and humor set the stage for another wonderful day. I won a DVD of A Day with Denise Fleming (which is also available on YouTube) that was one of many door prizes offered each morning and afternoon!

Chris Gall, author and illustrator of DinoTrux, Dear Fish, and There's Nothing to Do on Mars was on tap for the afternoon keynote.  He read his new book, Substitute Creacher and showed many of his book trailers that he has made himself to promote his books.  My son was so excited to have his DinoTrux book autographed and to learn that the sequel to Dinotrux, The Revenge of Dinotrux, is to be released in Spring 2012.

Wednesday brought three keynote presentations from Anita Silvey, Nick Bruel, and Richard Cowdrey.  Anita Silvey began the day by presenting stories she uncovered during a year of research preparing her book Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book.  This fascinating book features over 100 stories from leaders in their respective fields about their favorite children's book from their childhood.  The stories were so inspiring that I headed directly to the Mazza Gift Shop to buy the book.

Nick Bruel's keynote was very entertaining with many stories from his days working at Books of Wonder in New York.  My favorite stories were when Shel Silverstein visited the store in his many layers of clothes, a phone conversation he had about shoes that became part of major motion picture, and working with Caldecott artist Erin Stead and many other now well-known writers.  I was so thankful when I presented him with a copy of his book Bad Kitty to sign for my niece's birthday present that he took the time to draw a picture of Bad Kitty with a birthday hat on the front page!

Lastly, for Wednesday, Richard Cowdrey shared a wonderful story of his high school art teacher.  Richard and his high school art teacher did not get along.  Actually, school and Richard Cowdrey really didn't along.  He did just enough to get by and, in his words, really enjoyed a good party.  Cowdrey spent more effort drawing on the back of tests than he did in drawing during art class.  Interestingly, his teacher gathered up many of the drawings that were floating around the school and took them to Columbus College of Art and Design.  Cowdrey was not aware that his art teacher did this and despite his grades the college offered him a scholarship.  Wow - what a great story for the many teachers in attendance. Now, Cowdrey's career in children's books is going quite well with the success of the Marley series.  He described illustrating as his "calling".

An exciting announcement also came on Wednesday, July 13.  The Mazza Museum received a truckload of 2,700 original pieces of artwork from Steven Kellogg!  It was described by the Mazza Museum director, Benjamin Sapp, that the conversations about this donation started 5 years ago.  It was so exciting to be there on the day the numerous boxes arrived.  This donation increased the museum's original artwork collection by 50%!

At this point I am thinking....really, only two days left...I don't want it to end.

On Thursday Cheryl Harness, author and illustrator of many non-fiction American history books including The Revolutionary John Adams and Young Teddy Roosevelt, started the day talking about "time-space intersections" -- a point between the living past and the unknowable future. Her books have a unique way of meeting multiple learning levels through illustrations, text, maps, and labels while attempting to instill a love of history in the lives of children.  She feels, "knowing what has been done, makes us better citizens.  Our next generation needs to know what they are pledging allegiance to."  It was a pleasure to meet Cheryl Harness.  She even signed a bookmark for my daughter, who loves biographies on presidents, after I asked her about her favorite president.  The bookmark had a drawing of Abraham Lincoln and she inscribed, "Abe is my fave!"

James Warhola was the second keynote speaker on Thursday.  He is the illustrator of over 30 books for children including Bubba and Cowboy Prince and his popular books about visiting his Uncle Andy Warhol, Uncle Andy's and Uncle Andy's Cats.  He showed many examples of cover art that he designed including many science fiction books that I enjoyed when I was younger. He spent most of the presentation sharing the experience of being the nephew of the famous pop artist.  Many wondered why his name is spelled differently.  He said that Andy dropped the "A" from Warhola because it was easier to say.

My final day, Friday, began with John Manders reading from the book he illustrated by Carolyn Crimi, Henry and the Buccaneer Pirates.  Before beginning to read Manders donned a pair of bunny ears complete with a bandana and a gold earring. His reading of the book was fantastic and then he demonstrated his illustration technique by bringing Henry to life right before our eyes. It was fascinating watching him begin with a simple brown crayon for the sketch.  He then prepared all the colors on his palette. He worked his way through a series of brushes, largest to smallest, until he was down to a paintbrush that had a very fine tip that was needed for the final detail.  Many participants at the conference were raving about his presentation and thought he would be great on a school visit.

The final keynote was given by Seymour Simon who has written over 200 books for children. Many of his science books are published as a part of the Smithsonian Collins series.  His approach to explaining complicated science topics by using comparisons even helped many of us adults this week at the conference.  For example, he compared the size of Earth to the size of the big red spot on Jupiter.  Additionally, I knew that our weight was completely different on the moon, and that we would be able to jump really high. However, I didn't know that jumping was highly discouraged because you fall with the same force as on Earth.  I admire his passion for making science "approachable" for kids.

So, that was my wonderful week at the Mazza Museum... I met so many wonderful people that I hope I will see at the Fall Conference which is November 11 - 12, 2011.  As an added bonus to the Fall Conference, on November 10 from 5 -7 pm Jan Brett will be signing books at the Museum.  Guests at the weekend conference on November 11th and 12th include Jim Arnosky, Anna Dewdeny, Kevin Henkes, Vincent Di Nguyen, Jerry Pinkney, and David Weisner -- quite a lineup!  Also, following the conference on November 12th Steven Kellogg will be presenting along with actor, Anthony Edwards.

Finally, I would be amiss to not thank the leaders of my writing group, Dr. Melissa Cain and Laurie Edwards, who gave me the much needed confidence to continue exploring my dream of becoming a children's book author.  I would also like to thank my wife for making this trip possible!

About Mazza:
The Mazza Museum has the distinction of being the first and largest teaching museum in the world specializing in original artwork from picture books.  Its mission is to promote literacy through its educational programs and to collect, exhibit and preserve original art from children's books. (from Mazza Museum Press Kit).

"Founded in 1982, the Mazza Collection demonstrates how illustrations in children's picture books enhance and extend the meaning of the printed word.  Children experience the first thrill of reading by turning the pages of picture books.  Learning to enjoy a story through words and illustrations is the first step toward developing literacy in children." - Dr. Jerry Mallett, Founding Director (you should see this guy in a fish hat!)

Check out the History Page of their website to learn how the museum has grown from four pieces of original art to thousands!

I encourage you to Follow the Mazza Museum on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Congrats! I'm so glad you had a great time. I haven't been to Findlay in several years and wasn't aware that they had such a museum. How awesome :0)

  2. Aileen, I was not aware of this museum either until last year when my local librarian told me all about it. It is very special place with wonderful people committed to celebrating children's book art!


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