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Memorial travel fund allows young students across West Virginia to experience WVU Art Museum

The Abby Robbin Jacknowitz School Travel Fund was established in 2016. Since then, the fund has benefited numerous schools and students by providing paid transportation to the WVU Art Museum.  

As Art and Linda Jacknowitz considered how to leave their mark on  West Virginia University  and the state that gave them so much, they found inspiration at the intersection of family tragedy and shared passion. 

The couple’s late niece, Abby, died of metastatic cancer at just 30 years old. She worked for eight years as a special education teacher in the New York City public school system, where she often used art in her classroom to help students learn. 

Meanwhile, Art, professor emeritus for the  School of Pharmacy, had fittingly fallen in love with the  WVU Art Museum after getting involved as a docent, and Linda had joined Friends of the WVU Art Museum. When the couple approached museum officials to discuss areas of need, they mentioned funding to transport schoolchildren of all ages to the museum. 

“Immediately, that rang the bell with Art and I,” Linda said. “I remember we looked at each other, and we knew that that was going to be the one that was important to us.” 

The Abby Robbin Jacknowitz School Travel Fund was established in 2016. Since then, the fund has benefited numerous schools and students by providing paid transportation to the WVU Art Museum.  

“I think that there is a little bit – and maybe, in some people, a lot – of art in everyone, and I think that the earlier we can expose children to the visual arts, the earlier they can actually see the potential in themselves,” Linda said. 

Making an impact early 

Linda Jacknowitz is the former director of West Virginia CONSULT,an online health information service for rural health professionals, at the  Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center and project director of Mountains of Hope, West Virginia’s statewide comprehensive cancer coalition. While she worked in healthcare, she remembers how vital art exposure was in her childhood. 

“I grew up in a working-class family in Brooklyn, New York, and – for me – the introduction to the world of art came through museums,” she said. “There were so many free museums in New York City. My parents would take my sister and I to the Brooklyn Museum at least one Sunday a month, and we would explore all the different floors. It opened up a new world to me. Not only did I get to see beautiful art, but I began to understand it in terms of history.” 

Carolyn Light, a former teacher at Lincoln High School in Harrison County, said her path to art education stemmed from a childhood memory of visiting an art museum. 

“When I was 10 years old, my mother took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for my birthday,” Light said. “Art is very important in a child’s education. It helps a child learn to verbalize and communicate how they’re feeling about challenges that are going on in their life.” 

T he Jacknowitzes were able to visit the WVU Art Museum while students were exploring the facility. Linda said the feeling of seeing classrooms of children flood the exhibits was priceless. 

“I wish you could see the room as I have seen it, filled with schoolchildren getting to see professional art for the first time in their lives – the sparkle in their eyes, the excitement that they feel,” she said. 

WVU Art Museum

The WVU Art Museum features over 4,000 works of art, with an emphasis on pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries. 

‘They need it’  

The WVU Art Museum features over 4,000 works of art, with an emphasis on pieces from the 20th and 21st centuries. The museum boasts a strong collection of works of art on paper, the largest collection by West Virginia artist Blanche Lazzell and a substantial volume of art by self-taught Appalachian artists. 

D uring each school trip, students not only observe and appreciate the art on display; they also get the opportunity to use their own creativity to make their own works of art after viewing the exhibits. After a class from Buckhannon made the trip to the museum, the Jacknowitzes received several letters and pictures thanking them for their donations. 

“I can’t tell you how touched we were,” Linda said. “Almost every letter said, ‘We had such fun playing with the clay.’ That really excited Art and I, because we felt that the purpose was to get kids excited. They said they can’t wait to come back, and I can’t wait for them to come back as soon as this pandemic is over.” 

Heather Harris, educational programs manager at the WVU Art Museum, works to help students gain access to these invaluable artistic experiences. As someone who was born and raised in West Virginia, she is beyond grateful to be a part of the art education experience. 

“I have childhood memories of watching the Orchesis dance ensemble in the Clay Theatre or reimagined Shakespeare at the Gladys G. Davis Theatre,” she said. “At that time, I never could have imagined that I would one day be a part of providing that access and opportunity for the next generation of Mountaineers, but I am so grateful that I can.” 

Katherine Crim is an art teacher at Robert C. Byrd High School in Clarksburg and an art education coordinator for the state. She said the funds are an immense help in getting public school students exposed to different types of art. 

“Art is crucial in a child’s education,” Crim said. “When so much of what they’re expected to know is on the left side of the brain, art is problem-solving. It’s creative, it’s intuitive, it’s observational – and they need it.” 

Fostering growth  

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected how the WVU Art Museum operates. Staffers are unable to welcome students this academic year, but they are working hard to use new technologies to bring art to students through virtual tours. 

“One of the things we’re really working hard to do is to provide training, professional development and resources to teachers right now so that, when we are able to reopen and welcome students back here, they know that we are a resource in their community that they can come to and visit with their students,” Harris said. 

H arris is grateful for the opportunities presented by the Jacknowitz fund, and she encourages others to consider donating to the museum as it continues to grow. 

“Donor support allows us to serve West Virginians in a way we couldn’t otherwise,” she said. “We can bring students from far-reaching counties who otherwise wouldn’t be able to pay for buses to be here. We are able to provide them with art-making supplies when they come for hands-on engagements. Most importantly, we are able to get them excited about the creative arts.” 

Art and Linda Jacknowitz have continued to support the University in more ways than one. During Art’s 38 years of service to WVU, he advised over 260 pre-pharmacy and pharmacy honors students and received numerous honors throughout his tenure. In 2004, he earned honorary alumnus status from the  WVU School of Pharmacy Alumni Association  and he was also named the University’s Most Loyal Faculty Mountaineer. He retired in 2012, yet he continued to serve in a multitude of ways – including as a student mentor and  WVU Faculty Senate  member representing retired faculty. He passed away in 2019 at the age of 75, after a battle with cancer. 

The couple’s gift was made through the  WVU Foundation  the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University. 

To explore opportunities to support the WVU Art Museum, visit  the museum’s website  or contact Director of Development Jennifer Jordan at  or 304-293-4331.

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