WHS student creates mural that brings joy to McKinley’s walls

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Photo by Adam Wachtel

Adam Wachtel's mural in the stairwell at McKinley School.

Caroline Collins and Julia McGann

Adam Wachtel, a senior at WHS, recently created a mural in the stairwell of McKinley Elementary School as part of his college art portfolio. The mural reflects the values of the Westfield school system and was a project that required a lot of time and hard work. Even though Wachtel ended up being accepted to college before he finished the mural, completing the project became something more than just an addition to his portfolio; he wanted to do it to give back to the community.  

Wachtel began working on the mural in December after meeting and emailing with Dr. Marc Biunno, the principal of McKinley school. Dr. Biunno said that when Adam toured the building with him and Art Teacher Danielle Sarnowski, “he listened to what we try to impart to students at McKinley, how we work to be inclusive and caring, and a place where we grow our hearts and our minds.” When Wachtel introduced his proposal for a mural, “we were so impressed by how he incorporated our culture and made it understandable and accessible,” said Dr. Biunno.

Dr. Biunno believes Wachtel is a strong representation of the work ethic and heart that Westfield schools and families try to develop in the youth. 

Wachtel grew up in the Westfield schools and along the way has found a true love for art. He has been drawing and creating things for as long as he can remember and the mural was a way for him to share this passion with others. Wachtel said, “The most important thing for me and my work is not only to create aesthetically pleasing images, but to have messages and thoughts that I can impart on others.”

Wachtel saw the stairwell at McKinley during his visit and wanted to create a piece that would fill the space.  “My idea was pretty cemented and clear when I started the actual painting process, so the only thing I had to do was transfer my sketchbook to the walls. I saw the finished piece in my head from day one,” said Wachtel.

 His vision was interlocking figures that would be painted in bright primary colors. He chose this because he wanted all students to feel that they could relate to the figures in the mural. He believes that the figures should not be defined as a certain race or gender, because those things should not matter. Wachtel wanted to create a mural with “a positive message of hope as students are coming or going into the school.” Wachtel said, “ I want the mural to be a distraction from the trials of daily life.”

The figures in the mural are holding hands with one another which represents how the culture at McKinley inspires students to grow, encourage one another, and teach students to be accepting of everyone. “I’ve always wanted the halls of McKinley to represent kids’ voices as much as possible,” Dr. Biunno said. 

It took about two months for Wachtel to finish the project, and the greatest challenge was its scale because Wachtel completed the mural all by himself. Every day after school Wachtel worked on the mural.“I had already solved all the design issues and created a stencil to make the painting go faster. I still had to put in the time and do all the painting by hand” he said. 

The bright mural brings joy to McKinley Elementary School and has become a centerpiece that ties together the mission of the school with the vibrant students who walk the halls each day. 

In this video, Wachtel’s mural comes to life as he shares his story through his art. He talks about his inspiration for the mural as well as the artistic process.