From Military Service to Art with a Purpose

Each year, the Yale Norfolk School of Art selects twenty-six undergraduate art students from across the globe to attend its six-week intensive summer residency. The students are chosen from a pool of five hundred rising seniors who have been nominated by their school.

In a nutshell—it is a highly competitive program.

Which is why Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) student Kimberly Walker was floored when she received her notice of acceptance for Yale Norfolk’s 2019 session. She will be the first AAC student in seventeen years to attend the residency.

Their Story is Unique

Walker’s story is unique in that she became an art student only after serving seventeen years of active duty in the U.S. Army. When a spinal chord injury forced her into medical retirement, she did an about-face toward art.

“I retired down to New Mexico to do some healing. And then I ended up in art school,” she says.

If it weren’t for her now-mentor Sarah Stoler—an ‘00 AAC graduate who chairs the art department at the University of New Mexico-Taos—Walker might still be in New Mexico doing still life paintings.

“She brought the subject of the military out of me. At first I was kind of avoiding it. I just wanted to paint mountains and adobe homes.”

Under Stoler’s guidance, Walker found her way to Cincinnati where she is now a rising senior at the AAC. Her work investigates the ongoing realities of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence against women in the military through the medium of sculpture and installation.

Having a Story to Tell

Though it’s emotionally draining work, Walker draws motivation and energy from having a story to tell.

According to her most recent artist statement: “One out of three women who enlist in the U.S. military will be sexually assaulted or raped. Some have even been murdered by a brother in arms. In this sociopolitical climate, now is the pivotal moment to create this type of art.”

In the process, she has found there is something very satisfying about the physical work of building installations.

“I love the hard work. It’s almost like being a construction worker and an artist at the same time. So there’s some power there where you’re working with power tools,” Walker says. “I have a chain saw which I love to use.”

Unfortunately, the Yale Norfolk School of Art has a strict “no power tools” policy, so Walker will have to leave the chainsaw at home. But she anticipates a valuable opportunity to build on her study of color symbolism.

“I usually do red, white, and blue pieces. Or camouflage green and hot pink. But right now I’m trying all black.”

Otherwise, she is gearing up for an intense, full-immersion experience—something akin to boot camp.

“[The residency] is seven days a week, you can’t leave the grounds, you’re housed in private residences, eating in a dining hall together—breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” she explains. “And I’m like, oh this is basic training—I can do this! And I imagine some special relationships are gonna be built.”