Michelle Wise and generous donors are now the knights in shining armor for the knight she painted nearly 50 years ago. 

The 1976 Northeastern High School graduate was inspired to paint a mural of her school mascot in the gym during the summer between her junior and senior year. 

However, the knight’s future was in doubt last year after the school board approved a gym restoration plan that included painting the gym — and painting over the knight.

After learning of those plans, several Northeastern alumni and community members asked the board to leave the mural in place and quickly generated support for its restoration. 

Donors made gifts to cover Wise’s expenses for supplies and travel from her Asheville, North Carolina, home. She is grateful for that support and the opportunity to lengthen the lifespan of her mural while students were on spring break last week.  

Wise describes the connection that some Northeastern alumni have with the mural as amazing.

For instance, the Class of 1973, of which her sister Renee Ullinskey is a member, donated $500 toward Wise’s project. The mural wasn’t even in their school when they graduated. 

Wise started restoring and brightening the knight and his horse on Monday, March 25. She is enjoying the opportunity to correct what she perceives are artistic mistakes from her youth and make the mural bolder so it can be better seen from a distance. 

She now realizes she could have omitted the veins in the horse’s eyeball. 

“Not all detail is really needed,” Wise said. 

Wise said she might return in the summer to do any touch ups if needed and add varnish.

March’s climate was much more comfortable for her work than when Wise first painted the mural in what is now the Larry Moore Gymnasium. She remembers that in 1975, it was “hotter than blue blazes.”

After securing permission from school officials, the 17-year-old procured paint remnants from her parents and others for the project. 

She now recalls tracing the design onto the wall with a projector and painting the mural to be “such a daunting task.”  However, she’d set high goals because she wanted to be “the best artist in the world.”

After college, Wise’s artistic career included stints in art direction and graphics reporting/illustrating/designing at several newspapers, first at the Palladium-Item and then in the Phoenix, Arizona, area. 

Her next stops included the Orange County Register in California and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before joining The Oregonian in Portland, where her roles included visuals editor for Homes & Gardens of the Northwest and chief news designer for Sunday A1 and special reports. Wise then became senior graphic designer for the city of Gresham, Oregon. 

She moved to Asheville, North Carolina, when she retired, but stays active in creative work. She is principal and owner of Chelan Creative Studio, a private freelance studio for graphic design, photography, fine art and color consultation. Some of her work is related to cancer research. She also creates her own fine art and has a show planned in October.  

Wise said she has enjoyed the challenges of refurbishing the Knight mural, where birds have come in through the vent to check on her progress, and reflecting on her high school days and her life in subsequent years.      

She has also enjoyed wandering the halls during breaks from her work on the lift to see what’s changed in the school since she graduated. Northeastern was a fairly young school during her time there. She said everything looks great as the student population has grown and more tax revenue has been invested in the building.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 3 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.