At the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, we are motivated and inspired by remarkable stories about women in military service – their dedication, perseverance, and countless contributions throughout history charge us with excitement as we share their narratives with you.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we had the incredible opportunity to connect with Navy Veteran and artist, Kristin Cronic. Kristin’s time at the U.S. Naval Academy has inspired her to create a body of work which pays tribute to the longstanding traditions of life for students and young sailors at the renowned Annapolis institution.
What we find so intriguing about Kristin is the stark contrast between her life as a Midshipman and her life as an accomplished painter. How does one go from serving on the USS Winston S. Churchill – a 9,000-ton destroyer – to becoming an artist, we wondered? For Kristin, the answer was simple; from a young age, she was meant to be both. “I have always been an artist, and I spent my childhood making something any moment I could. It is simply where my heart is happiest, and I have returned to it through every season of my life,” she told us. “I also felt a call to serve and enjoyed the analytical side as well. Certainly, I pined for art class, but math and science were fascinating to me, too.”
Growing up, Kristin shared that several people in her life served as role models and helped pave the way for her to follow her passions. This included her aunt – a professional artist; her mother – a successful businesswoman; and her high school art teacher – a US Marine Corps Veteran who served in Vietnam. Recalling the moment she learned her teacher had served, Kristin explained, “…it occurred to me for the first time that military service and art did not have to be mutually exclusive. His story encouraged me as I began to pursue my own path.”
“The biggest reason I wanted to serve was as a response to the September 11 attacks. I was in 7th grade and I remember feeling so helpless and frustrated that I could not do anything about it. My dad happened to be on a business trip to Spain, slated to come home the 12th. He eventually did, but at the time, we did not know if we would ever see him again.” For Kristin, this was not a moment easily forgotten, and became the driving force in her decision to serve.
Following a visit to the U.S. Naval Academy during her high school years, Kristin described feeling a deep sense of belonging and knew this is where she was meant to be. After receiving her acceptance letter, she understood she could not turn down the opportunity. “I knew my life would eventually bring me back to art, but I also knew I had this ‘now or never’ dream,” she explained. “I had a plan to drive ships, become an engineer, go to dive school and grad school, and be a salvage diver for the Navy. I did hope to one day meet someone and start a family, and that journey happened to start the very same day my military service began.” As fate would have it, the artist indeed had met her husband, Caleb, at the Naval Academy on day one. They were assigned to the same company and the same squad, and also stood next to each other in height order. Their parents even happened to sit next to each other at their swearing in ceremony. 14 years and two children later, the rest is history – and the best is still yet to come!
In June of 2007, Kristin Cronic entered the U.S. Naval Academy as a young and fresh-faced “Plebe” and graduated in 2011 as an Ensign about to embark on her naval career. Between 2011 and 2017, Kristin served on the USS Winston S. Churchill and the USNS Comfort, deploying to the Persian Gulf and Central and South America, respectively. Though she loved her job, engineering, and the Navy, being far from home weighed heavy on her heart. Despite the challenges, Kristin felt the Naval Academy prepared her for these moments and she persevered through this difficult time. It wasn’t until she had her first child that she realized she could no longer deploy and leave her budding new family. Her path led her home, and eventually back to her other love – making art.
Upon taking a first look at Kristin’s work, we noticed the artist and former Midshipman’s paintings are gestural in nature. Her use of both expressive color and subtle hues help to convey the stories of her subjects and scenes — adding both energetic and emotive qualities to the work’s nostalgic and timeless feel. When asked why she chooses to paint the USNA, the artist offered two distinct reasons.
“First, it’s a fascinating ‘coming of age’ experience. Typically, starting USNA is a crop of fresh high school graduates. Four years go by, and those same ‘kids’ are suddenly driving ships, handling weapons, holding responsibility well beyond their years. What happens in that process? How did we get from A to B?” Kristin described herself as being captivated by the agelessness of the USNA experience, explaining that, “decades of graduates can see an experience and immediately relate to it. It breeds a common understanding, and yet, thousands of individual perspectives. I find that intersection endlessly fascinating.”
Kristin’s desire to share the USNA experience is intertwined with her hopes to inspire future Midshipmen, and to help former graduates remember their own story. “And perhaps most importantly,” she emphasizes, “I hope it invites the public to relate to the experience in their own way, while still preserving some of the sacred parts of the process.” For Kristin, civilians too can see themselves woven into the fabric of the stories she shares. The scenes she has chosen to paint allow all viewers to connect with these encapsulated moments and reflect on times they have lived through something similar.
To our service men and women, Kristin shared some heartfelt last thoughts, “Your service matters, your story matters. Each and every service member is valuable and appreciated. Regardless of rank achieved, time spent serving, gender, race, sexuality, or religion — I am grateful for you and honor your service.”
Kristin Cronic lives with her husband, Caleb, and two children in Jacksonville, Florida. For more information about the artist, please head to her website easelonstribling.com. Kristin’s portraits will be on view at the U.S. Naval Academy later this year through December 2022. We invite you to join us in following this Midshipman, artist, wife, and mother on her next great journey!