Eyes closed, a smiling surfer glides on a multicolored wave through sheltering palm fronds in the entryway mural at Surfway, U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll’s grocery store. The original artwork is now complete and available for shoppers to enjoy, thanks to students from the Namo Weto Youth Center.
Over the past months, students enrolled in U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll Child and Youth Services spent Thursday afternoons working together to decorate the store wall with a large, original brand designed by island resident Gabby Africano. Working in shifts with guidance from CYS Teen Center Lead Rachel Raczynski, the team prepared the painting surface, blocked in layers of color and added fine details. Supplies and materials utilized in the project were donated by members of the garrison community.
The finished product has received numerous compliments from island residents, including Surfway personnel.
“I absolutely love the way the mural turned out,” Surfway General Manager Shalva Forsmann said. “It’s better than I expected and so colorful. … Kids came back week after week and some even came in between painting sessions to sand down one of the walls to prepare it for more painting.”
For some of the student artists, the Surfway mural is the first or largest art piece they have worked on to date. Several who had never painted before got to learn a new creative skill.
Gabby Africano, who submitted the final design for the project, said she enjoyed seeing her small sketch become larger than life after it was transferred to the store wall. Rendering the surfer’s hands and board proved to be challenging, she said.
Africano plans to sketch people more often in preparation for future projects and has plans to produce a comic book.
“Art is a talent I’ve had for a long time,” Africano said. “It helps me put down what’s in my mind.”
Kwajalein High School students Ellie Miller and Anne Marie Zink put their love of art, concept design and drawing to work. Miller said she enjoyed painting in a team and watching the finished image emerge.
It was challenging trying to match colors of paint each week, they said.
“We did half of [one section,], and then we couldn’t find the same color,” Miller said. “I think someone had mixed it.”
Luckily, Zink decided mixing color would be a major part of her contribution to the mural.
“I was trying to go for a more realistic tone, for the surfer,” said Zink. “All of the colors [we had] were very bright, and not really what I was going for. So, I used my understanding of color theory to dull the colors. If you look at a color wheel, you see green. On the opposite end is red. I mixed in red, and it helped a lot.”
KHS student Matthew Walter spent time painting, and sanding and preparing the painting surface. He said the level of interest and participation in the project was unique.
“One day, we had 15 students there to help,” Walter said. “It also wasn’t just elementary school or high school students. Every single homeschooler came to participate.”
Though he has a busy schedule, and is currently in two sports, Walter said he would welcome the chance to paint again, as would his peers.
“I would argue that a lot of students would come out and help, no matter what their schedules are like,” Walter said.
Africano looks forward to the next opportunity to create and would welcome another chance to create public art, to animate or to draw.
“Anything related to art or making art, for people that help us every day,” Africano said. “[For] people who work at the Food Court, cashiers, police officers and firefighters.”
Thanks to the island’s young artists, shoppers at Surfway can enjoy the original art piece for years to come. The students’ work is complete—until the next mural.
“They are all so talented,” said Forsmann. “Hopefully this mural gets to shine on for many years. Thank you, kiddos, for your gift. I thank you, and Surfway thanks you.”