Santa Maria native and self-taught artist Kara Walker had the chance to bring her unique crafting skills to the national stage this year as a contestant on Season 3 of NBC's "Making It."
The show that began airing June 24 brings together a group of "makers" to compete in handmade crafting challenges. Walker joined the Season 3 group as a surprise contestant at the end of the season premiere with fellow contestant Melanio Gomez.
Viewers can see Walker in the fourth episode of the season Thursday, as she continues her journey toward the coveted $100,000 prize.
After demonstrating a natural skill for painting, Walker transitioned to making spooky home decor and prop-type sculptures in the past four years. Many residents see her skills on display at Halloween, when she turns her yard into a display of handmade tombstones, frightening trees and otherworldly decorations.
"On Pinterest, I saw a spooky tree and decided I wanted to try that," she said. "It really launched me into a whole new career path, seeing that was something I could do."
Since she had two fewer challenges under her belt than the other contestants, Walker said she felt the need to prove herself right off the bat.
In a second episode challenge focused on creating a unique lending library, her molded foam creation of a storybook-style mushroom and tree stump sculpture earned her the winning title from hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman.
"I wanted to kind of show off my abilities right away, being that we came in late," she said of the lending library challenge. "I knew this was something I could pull off. I thought it was cool … it was the most 'me' thing I’ve done."
Audiences also saw a vulnerable side from Walker in the episode, when she shared about her experience growing up with goldenhar syndrome and her resulting hearing impairment. While shame about her condition held her back in the past, creating art is what "mends" her, she said.
"It was very emotional. If you watch the show, you see that we all cry a lot," she joked.
Filming of the show, completed at the end of 2020, was pushed off for several months due to COVID-19, according to Walker. Once things got rolling, contestants had to isolate in hotel rooms for two weeks and then were subjected to COVID-19 testing every two days.
Along with the general challenges posed by COVID-19 precautions, Walker said the use of masks and face shields sometimes made it more difficult for her to understand people due to her hearing impairment. However, the crew and contestants all worked hard to ensure she knew what was going on.
"Everyone was really great about it," she said.
Now back home in Santa Maria, Walker said she still can't believe the experience happened, especially after initially applying for the second season and not making the cut.
She still keeps in touch with her fellow contestants via text and Zoom, and is grateful to her family for helping take care of two sons while she went away indefinitely to compete on the show.
"Right now, I’m trying to launch my own home decor line for spooky stuff," she said. "I’m trying to get out of my regular home interior kind of life and do this more for myself, so it’s kind of a sink-or-swim moment."
To view more of Walker's work, visit her Instagram at kara_walker_designs.
To follow Walker's journey, tune in to "Making It" at 8 p.m. Thursdays.