McManus and Hoorneman Discuss Impetus for Tile Mural

Thoughts on Symbolism at Bromfield

On November 25th, 2016, the rock which so many Bromfield seniors have decorated over the years was defiled with swastikas, slurs, and other hateful symbols. The outcry was immediate, and after the rock was painted over, the school emerged a changed place. For most people, that’s where the story of the rock ended. However, for art teacher Elizabeth Hoorneman and social studies teacher Kristin McManus, the covering of the rock with profane symbols was only the beginning of a long journey that culminated in the creation of the courtyard’s tile mural at the beginning of this year.

“We decided that we wanted to create something that would counterbalance that hateful act by creating positive messages and symbols, and a sense of community,” explains Hoornerman. Ms. McManus further clarifies their motivation, explaining that “you would be surprised how many people don’t really understand why [some symbols] can be so offensive.” They both discussed how the vandalism opened their eyes to the power of positive, negative, and neutral symbols, and they hope that students gained this insight as well. 

To learn more about symbols and their use over time, they went on a trip to Italy, studying the ancient rock art at an archeological site. Hoorneman and McManus tried to incorporate as many students and clubs as possible to make their mural a school-wide project.  They took time in art and social studies classes to paint some tiles so that “everyone could paint a tile and leave their mark behind,” says Hoorneman. Even members of the administration took part by taking time during Professional Development days to create art for the mural. 

Installation of the mural, funded by the Harvard Schools Trust, was halted by the outbreak of COVID-19, pushing back their planned spring 2020 installation until early this year. McManus and Hoorneman spent many hours installing the mural, along with help from the custodial staff, who McManus says “saved the day on so many levels for us.” The installation took place over the course of three days. 

McManus says that the mural is supposed to represent “a learning experience, learning about symbols, learning about how they can change and evolve, and how they can mean different things to different people – learning that as students ourselves, and then bringing that to the students.”

The two teachers discussed a potential expansion of the mural in the future and possibly painting the walls behind the mural(s) to make them look less drab, as the courtyard is full of unused space. As for the future of the existing mural, they intend for it to stay in the courtyard as a permanent fixture. They want it, the vandalizing of the rock, and the unity, hope, and symbolism that it represents to never be forgotten.