It’s Only Natural
Writer Amanda Christmann
Photography by Loralei Lazurak
Phoenix artist Kim Walker has a message, but it isn’t something that her gentle smile or carefully chosen words can say. Instead, she is sharing pieces of herself that have taken a lifetime of experiences and lessons to cultivate, and she shares them through visual art and poetic expression.
Among the paint and supplies in her workshop are stacks of books and magazines. Though she’s probably read them all, it isn’t what’s published inside that counts. Instead, they hold pages upon pages of pressed treasures—flower blooms, leaves and stems—that she’ll use for her creations.
“All of my art uses natural elements,” she explains, her blond hair falling gracefully to the side of her naturally pretty face. “I collect things from nature and press them, then later they are integrated into my work. It’s something I picked up along part of my journey when I was attending Arizona State University.”
Though her journey may sound traditional on the surface, it’s far from it.
Kim had never gone to college when she met her husband, Rob. He had two young daughters, Jenny and Jacky, at the time, and Kim fell in love with the trio. It was mutual, and together they decided to become a family. Robby and Annie came along, and then they were six.
When their son Robby was born, they began to notice something was a little “different” about him.
“Even when he was tiny, Robby was off the charts. For example, he had a great attention span. He’d play with his building blocks for hours. It was the first time I’d had a baby, so I didn’t know that wasn’t normal. I just used to think, ‘Well isn’t that adorable!’”
Robby began teaching himself to read at the age of 3, and in preschool, he could compute math problems faster than Kim could punch the numbers into a calculator. His preschool teachers told the couple they’d never seen a child like Robby, and when he started kindergarten, it became even more clear that, academically, Robby was not like the other children.
What also became clear was that parenting Robby was going to require some tough decisions. Kim and Rob didn’t want to hold their son back, but they also didn’t want to thrust him into a world in which, socially, he’d be far beyond his years.
Fortunately, they weren’t in it alone. Robby’s teachers wanted to see him succeed, too. One of them suggested that the Walkers look into ASU’s Center for Academic Precocity.
The program, which was intended for gifted middle schoolers, is no longer funded, but three decades ago, it came at just the right time for the Walkers. Six-year-old Robby began college-level trigonometry and algebra classes though the program, and days after his ninth birthday, he began taking classes at Glendale Community College, all the while attending regular school and participating in age-appropriate sports teams.
Glendale Community College picked up where ASU had left off, and each day she drove him to Glendale for advanced courses.
Being supportive was a family endeavor. Kim had just as much support from Rob as she was giving to him.
“My husband and I have always been supportive of our kids and each other, and we’ve always said, ‘Do what you love.’”
Before long, with Robby confident in his classes, Kim found herself waiting in hallways while Robby took classes. It occurred to her that she, too, could enroll in school.
“I was already there, so I figured why not?” she says. “I’d never been to college and I thought, ‘I’ll take a couple of classes too.’”
Robby earned his associates degree from GCC at the age of 12, and the two of them enrolled together at ASU. Kim and Robby even took some classes together.
“I started taking some art classes because art had been something I enjoyed my whole life. Oh my goodness, when I was in my art classes, my heart felt like it was leaping out of my chest!” she says.
As the years flew by, it was a time of growth for the whole family. Robby turned 16 and earned his honors degree in math and computer science, becoming the youngest ASU grad in the history of the school. In keeping with wanting Robby’s life to be as normal as possible, the following year he graduated from high school.
Kim, who was attending classes part-time while helping with the family business, Xopax, took a little longer, but she, too earned a degree, a bachelors of fine arts in painting.
“I had amazing teachers and learned so much. Something in my heart kept tugging at me, and I was learning so many amazing things.”
That ‘something’ was a passion for creating, and it was fueled by her love for her family.
Kim and Rob had been through the ups and downs of raising a family, and they’d faced plenty of challenges along the way. Through it all, they’d made sure they spent plenty of quality time with their children, much of which was enjoying lakes and trails together.
They developed family sayings—things like “Find the silver linings,” and,“Don’t forget to look up.” Whether they were on a hike or working at a computer, she and Rob reminded each other to stop and appreciate the little moments that make life worthwhile.
“We had a tradition at the dinner table where we always asked, ‘What did you learn today, and what did you do for fun?’ I wanted us to always have element of fun, because we always have things that are hard.
“Life is hard sometimes. I want to do something good with it, something that involves loving people.”
Tragedy to Inspiration
Those happy years of raising children and finding her artistic voice are a topic that flows easily from Kim’s tongue; it’s death that parks itself in the back of her throat and keeps the words from escaping.
“At the end of December 1999, my mom passed away. She was only 64 when she had a stroke, and I just didn’t know where to put all of my emotions, or what to do. I ended up taking lot of long walks.
“I was sitting on side of a mountain one day shortly afterward, and a breeze wrapped around me. It felt like a hug. I can’t describe it exactly, but it really helped me with my grief.
“I realized that nature is phenomenal; it teaches us so many things. It can heal broken hearts. The beauty is everywhere, and what can be more beautiful than what nature does to each and every one of us?
“I thought, ‘This is it. This is absolutely it.’ I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew beauty was the way.”
It was that moment that led Kim to notice the blooms, leaves and twigs along her favorite trails, and that inspired her to incorporate them into her art.
As her work became more heart-centered, something else emerged.
“I don’t even know how it happened, but I started to write poetry for all of my work, and poetry became an important part. It become an important part for the people who enjoy my art also.”
Dreamily, she recites from memory the first poem she wrote, a simple ode called “Offerings”:
Gentle breeze, embrace me
Soft rain bathe me
moonlight calm me
sunlight save me.
“That poem is where it all began for me,” she says.
Today, she and Rob are enjoying a new phase of life. Both are following their creative pursuits, and their children, each happy in lives they’ve chosen, are thriving as adults. They also have six grandchildren who they adore.
As for Robby, he went on to earn his doctorate in computer science. An entrepreneur, he imagined and built successful tech companies, the first of which was sold to Google. For the last six years, he has been a director at Apple in San Francisco. Like his parents, giving back to others remains a big priority, and his humanitarian involvement is just as impressive as his academic accomplishments.
Kim’s art has been featured in galleries since before she completed her degree, and it’s become even more popular as her style has evolved. In February, it was featured in a solo exhibition at the Herberger Theater art gallery, and her works are on display in Sedona at Renee Taylor’s Vue gallery, and at galleries in Palm Desert and Washington State.
Locally, it can be found at Wild Holly Gallery in Carefree.
Her message remains the same.
“I want everyone in the world, whether they are rich or poor, and regardless of race, color, background, or anything else that divides us, to feel that we are all held by the same gravity, that the sun warms us all, and that we can all take a glimpse into nature at any moment and understand the connectedness.
“We’re more connected than disconnected, if we can only understand the profundity of it all.”