Columbus Icon Ann B. Walker Fills Her Franklin Park Home with Art from Her Travels

The media pioneer and White House appointee adorns her East Side dwelling with art and furniture she collected while visiting 17 African countries.

Laurie Allen
Ann B. Walker wears jewelry collected during her travels, including an elephant necklace from the Ivory Coast. The ivory bracelets are from Tanzania and other African countries. A ring and bracelet on her right hand are silver and amber, purchased in Ethiopia.

Inside the home of East Side icon and news media pioneer Ann B. Walker, every piece of art tells a story, evokes a memory and conveys great meaning. Objects both decorative and functional didn’t arrive by 24-hour delivery truck but came from the owner’s extensive travels to Africa, where she connected with her roots and and brought the mementos to Columbus.

A former radio host, columnist and editor, Walker was the first woman in broadcast management at WLWC-TV (now WCMH), the first female broadcaster to report on the Ohio legislature and the first Black woman from Franklin County to receive a White House appointment. (She held a position in President Jimmy Carter’s White House public affairs office.)

When she wasn’t working, Walker traveled extensively to some 20 countries, collecting treasures along the way. She has visited 17 African countries, bringing home art, furniture and other items that are displayed in abundance at her home near Franklin Park, where she has lived for the past 60 years. She encourages visitors to touch the tapestries and sculptures, to experience some small part of the treasurers she has collected.

Elephants are carved into the back of two chairs Ann B. Walker purchased in Ghana.

Two carved wooden chairs reflect Walker’s penchant for last-minute acquisitions made during the many student tours she led throughout Africa. “I was always trying to get people moving, to get them on the bus, but there was always something that caught my eye,” she says with a smile. Practically speaking, the chairs were a win, as they came in two pieces with fold-up legs, which allowed Walker to pack them in her suitcase.

She has brought home an array of items from her journeys to Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana, where she and a student team helped local village women in their quest to build a library. Handcrafted art objects fill the living room, where panels in a fabric wall hanging depict each element of a day in the life of a Zimbabwe village. Nearby, an intricately beaded, ivory-colored goat reminds Walker of the Zulu women who crafted it. “Their fingers just fly,” she says.

Walker brought back a fabric wall hanging from Zimbabwe that depicts village life in each of its panes.

A wall in Walker’s sunroom displays colorful South African bowls created from discarded telephone wire. “Over there, people use what’s available,” she says, “They use scraps.” So curious was Walker about her woven bowls that she checked her utility box when a telephone repairman was at the house several years ago. “Sure enough, there were all these wires in different colors.” The bowls, she says “are things of beauty but they’re also useful.”

Walker, whose father worked for the railroad, was bitten by the travel bug as a young girl. “He could get passes, and we grew up traveling,” she recalls. “I’ve always liked new experiences.”

Of the functional and decorative art in her home, the 99-year-old Walker says, “This art has meaning, especially in light of we how we (Black Americans) got here, against our will.” Racial oppression played a part in how Walker came to own her home, situated across from the picturesque urban park. The first time she attempted to buy it, she was rejected by the then-owner, who told her, “we don’t sell to colored,” Walker remembers.

Walker has collected a multitude of handmade items during her travels to Africa, including a large hand-beaded goat made by Zulu women.

Decades later, a different owner whom Walker personally knew offered her the home at a discounted price. She has happy memories of time spent here with her late husband and four children, having picnics, playing ball and watching Fourth of July fireworks at the park.

She also has grand memories of her career, recalling a news conference where she asked then-candidate Jimmy Carter what he would do about unrest in Ghana. Later, as President, Carter appointed her to a position in the White House public affairs office. (A photo of the two hangs in the home’s entry hall.) A member of the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame, Walker has had a plaza named for her at the Adelphi Quarter development on East Long Street, not far from the street’s Cultural Wall, where her image appears along with other notable residents.

Back inside her home, she surrounds herself with objects that harken to another place and time. Her Zulu dolls proudly wear their brass neck rings, a sand painting spurs memories of Senegal, and a tapestry is a visible and treasured reminder of the students who gave it to her. On a recent afternoon, wearable art in the form of an impressive beaded elephant necklace brought to mind another venture. “I saw it in a shop where they were trying to separate tourists from their money on the Ivory Coast,” she says wryly.

Ann B. Walker was the first Black woman from Franklin County to receive a White House appointment, holding a position in President Jimmy Carter’s White House public affairs office.

Blood clots in Walker’s legs have curtailed travel for the past four years, and she doubts she’ll venture far from home again. But the “traveler extraordinaire,” as daughter Julialynne Walker describes her, can still visit faraway places every time she looks at a set of chairs, a wooden sculpture or one very contented goat.

This story is from the July 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.