By HOPE KAHNCAPITAL GAZETTE |JUN 24, 2021 AT 5:28 AM
A nervous Kristin Cronic discovered Pete Souza’s collection of plebe summer photographs in 2007 right before she embarked on her Naval Academy journey.
Souza’s black-and-white photos, which captured raw moments like detailers screaming at plebes and the meticulous craft of making a rack, helped showed Cronic what to expect going into a summer like no other.
As a plebe herself, she remembers seeing little moments that she wished to capture, like the sun rising at a muggy morning parade practice and Stribling Walk at dusk. But she wasn’t able to document these moments until years later.
Now, 32-year-old Cronic has her 20-piece art collection, “A Midshipman’s Journey,” on the Naval Academy museum walls for the next year.
“The 20 moments define the experience from the perspective of a common person,” Cronic said.
Jacksonville-native Cronic said she has always been creative, but was drawn to the Naval Academy after 9/11 happened while she was in middle school. After visiting the yard, she felt immediately connected to it. She chose the Naval Academy over art school.
But during Cronic’s third year, she discovered an outfitted studio in a tower on the Yard. She tracked down the key and opened it up every week to draw and paint.
“Being a midshipman, which was just a lot of demands on your schedule, making art became kind of a relief,” Cronic said.
Cronic, who currently lives in Jacksonville, commissioned in 2011 as a surface warfare officer and got married two weeks after to Caleb Cronic, who she met in her plebe summer squad.
Between deployments, she filled her free time with painting.
She transferred to engineering duty and shortly after had her daughter. On her first day back from maternity leave, she resigned from the Navy after six years in. She hung up her uniform on a Thursday in 2017. Hurricane Irma flooded her house that Sunday.
“No pun intended, it was a perfect storm of situations,” Cronic said. “I was losing my identity as an officer, I was a new mom and pregnant. I ended up taking a job that wasn’t a great fit. We were in the house as it flooded. I hit rock bottom and, in that space, I started painting again.”
Painting kept her grounded, she said, and she felt like it was her sign that she needed to make art her career.
In 2018, Cronic started an Etsy shop called Easel on Stribling, the name she now calls her alter-ego. She and her husband had an idea for a mug that as it’s raised would mimic a plebe holding Reef Points, a small handbook for midshipmen, in front of their face to read.
“I made like 15 different quippy little mugs that were just kind of making a joke about the whole place because there’s so much material and it’s a funny place to be. And so when people kind of went nuts over it, it kind of caught on,” Cronic said.
She did her first series of Naval Academy-themed art using watercolors in August 2018 and they did great, she said.
“My heart’s always been in oil painting and so after that, I was trying to think of how to tell this story in like pockets of ideas and so I started kind of breaking it down by concept,” she said.
The concepts include Annapolis at night, colors, the Dark Ages, spring on the Yard, granite and brass, plein air and still life. Cronic’s most recent concept is the art collection, “A Midshipman’s Journey.”
A midshipman’s journey
The collection takes the viewer through the Naval Academy experience, starting from the acceptance of an appointment to commissioning day.
“I think it’s a very interesting place to come of age. Everyone comes in as a 17 or 18-year-old and they come out as officers and you’re like driving ships and just doing things that aren’t normal for a 22-year-old and I find that transformation interesting,” she said.
She wanted to hold space for the hard moments, as well as the ones that are great.
“I also wanted it to be something that could encourage and inspire future midshipmen just like Pete Souza’s photos did for me.”
While Cronic was a blue and gold officer, a volunteer who helps guide prospective midshipmen through the admissions process, she met Margaret Schrader in 2017 at a Northeast Florida parents’ club picnic for incoming plebes.
Schrader, whose son commissioned from the Naval Academy this past May, said that Cronic and her instantly clicked. Cronic answered her questions about the Naval Academy and helped navigate her through her son’s journey. Cronic also helped Schrader through her art.
“I always tell her ‘you’ve humanized what that experience was like,’” Schrader said. “And so it helps me relate to what my son has gone through.”
Schrader’s favorite piece from the collection, “Study Hour,” captures a midshipman studying at his desk in a dark room, illuminated by the glow of a desk lamp.
“I just think of how many hours my son and all of those kids sit at their desks, just working alone and grinding,” Schrader said.
Cronic’s favorite piece is a self-portrait that she didn’t plan on doing.
“I thought my goal was to keep my personal narrative out of it because I wanted it to be more just the general story. As I worked through the body of work, I kind of realized it was impossible to ignore my perspective. I only can see what I can see,” she said.
“Identity,” the piece’s title, is Cronic on commissioning day dressed in her whites, wearing her class ring and engagement ring. She said it was a way to acknowledge and thank the women who paved the way since the class of 1980, but Cronic wrestled with the idea of showing her face as a female in the portrait.
“It’s sometimes, it’s hard to be a female in the military and I didn’t want that to maybe make people shrug off what I was doing because they saw I was female. And so kind forcing myself to just be like, yep, I am a woman doing this. I went there too and I have had the same experiences.”
The entire collection will be on display on the second floor of the museum for at least the next year as part of the Naval Academy’s 175 year anniversary exhibit titled “Ex scientia tridens,” which is the academy’s motto, and translates to “from knowledge, seapower.”
“We thought it would be really kind of excellent to display art that comes from a graduate,” said Museum Senior Curator Tracie Logan.
The museum’s first floor displays items on people and their experiences and what makes the Academy and the second floor is about the buildings and grounds that make up the academy, Logan said.
“Kristin’s pieces, which feature her personal story but also many buildings here, are kind of the perfect synthesis for that,” she said.
Cronic’s collection can also be accessed online via her website: www.easelonstribling.com.
Cronic has ideas for more collections, like the Naval Academy through the ages and diversity at the Naval Academy, she said.
Easel on Stribling has allowed Cronic to connect with people through social media, getting feedback on work but also hearing other people’s Naval Academy experiences.
“I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on [my experiences] through painting and my biggest takeaway has been gratitude for both the great days and for the less than perfect moments,” she said.
Hope Kahn CONTACT
Hope is an intern at the Capital Gazette. She’s a a journalism student at the University of Maryland, where she has written for the student newspaper, The Diamondback. Before college, Hope was among a team of student journalists who worked on “Since Parkland,” a project profiling children and teenagers who were killed by guns.