Adam Podber’s murals have graced the walls of Chabad Intown, Camp Twin Lakes and several other locations, but his first work was at The Epstein School when he was in fourth grade. Now, he’s returning to the school to paint a series of murals for the Early Childhood Program.
“I had always been into art and had an amazing teacher named Ms. Clark,” Podber said. “When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma it really picked up. … I really like to keep things in perspective, and I see that first mural as a very dramatic example of how far I’ve come.”
That mural was designed and painted with another student, Jamie Sichel, while Podber was undergoing treatment.
One of Epstein’s nurses, Joyce Tritt, was at the school when Podber painted that first mural.
“Seeing this mural he painted when he was 8 years old and then the one he painted [recently] downstairs really shows how much he’s grown,” she said. “He’s really gained so much ability, and he was always an incredibly sweet boy.”
ECP principal Stephanie Wachtel explained the thought process behind adding new murals to the school.
“Our walls were very plain down here, and we wanted halls that looked like a preschool, but also that struck families when they walked by, and helped them create memories,” she said. “I met with my entire preschool staff and we came up with some ideas to pitch to Adam, and he ran with it from there.”
Podber, who painted the first mural last summer before school started, reflected on what it was like to walk back into Epstein’s halls.
“Going back there really put things drastically in perspective for me,” Podber said. “I used it as a hobby and a passion and now it’s a full-time profession.”
He noted that his vision for the piece, enormous flowers, came from a favorite childhood movie.
“Some of it came from the movie, ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids,’” he said. “I tried to play up the idea of having these towering flowers, where for an adult, it may not be as dramatic, but for these kids these 7-foot-tall flowers are three times the size of them.”
Wachtel shared what she sees when she passes the flowers.
“To me it really speaks all about the journey,” she said. “Our children are only here in the preschool for three or four years and then they continue to grow. It’s really all about creating these memories for them in their early childhood years.”
Memories aren’t exclusive to the children, as Tritt herself is reminded each time she passes the mural.
“It really brings back sweet memories of that kid who was in my office,” she said. “I’m so glad that he’s happy and accomplished. It’s amazing.”
The flowers were the first of three murals Podber is working on for the school; he is starting the second this week.
“It is a similar theme – oversized, dramatic objects – but we’re focusing on playfulness,” he said. “I like to keep things specific and keep my audience in mind and make sure it’s digestible for very young kids.”
Wachtel explained that the next mural will tie in very closely with themes emphasized in the everyday lives of these students.
“We’re always focusing on, especially in the preschool, learning through play using imagination,” she said. “We want their imagination to go wild and [for them to] be creative thinkers, … so hopefully the symbols of this next mural will spark that in them.”
Unlike the first mural, school will be in session while the second is in progress. Podber said he saw a handful of students’ reactions to the first mural and hopes to see more.
“It was what I was hoping for, surprise, amazement and intrigue,” he said, “but for most, they left for the summer with a blank wall and came back to these towering flowers, so I hope that excited them to come back to school.”