Obemeyer-Social-Networks -&-Stroke -recovery

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. -- Albert Einstien

Welcome to my new blog created specifically to chart the growth and development of one body of work - the Social Network and Stroke Recovery Project.

My Artist Statement 

Rendering visible the invisible and observation are at the root of art and medicine. Advances in medical knowledge were often based on the collaborations between doctors and illustrators, such as Vesalius and Jan Steven van Calcar or artists working with medical researchers in contemporary electronic visualization labs. While the focus has been primarily on anatomy and physiology, I am interested in the way art, particularly the textile arts, may be used to illustrate patterns of health and healing, whether that be the patterns lurking below the skin and seen only with the aid of a microscope or a pattern found through social network science.

This project is based on the research of Dr. Amar Dhand of Washington University School of Medicine.  My choice of medium is specific. Crochet is a structure in which each loop is interdependent on the other. Miss a loop or fray it and the structure becomes unstable. As stroke survivor I came to know intimately of my dependence on others. My illness had effected more than myself. It impacted my family and their work schedule, as well as the schedules of their colleagues. The research looks at the social networks of several hundred patients who were admitted to the Barnes-Jewish Hospital.  Who are the family and friends of the patient? What is the strength of this connection?  How will their connection improve the overall recovery of the patient?  The colors chosen are similar to those used in a functional MRI. Tactile-lines radiate from the center patient position and lead to the points marking the number of family and friends identified as part of the patient’s support structure. 

To me this study asks more fundamental questions: Who are your family and friends?  Can you count on them when the chips are down and how do you maintain and nurture these fragile connections now and when you are faced with a medical emergency? The study illuminates the invisible architecture of a family structure and network of friends. When I had a stroke, I was completely dependent on my social network; I had to learn how to gracefully accept help from others, let alone even learn to ask for it. I had been strong-willed and independent my entire adult life, so being so dependent on others for basic things like grocery shopping, cooking and doing laundry was frustrating and humiliating. My driver’s license was suspended; I couldn’t even drive myself to the doctor. You learn to accept assistance from anyone and everyone without question. While I was new to St. Louis, my use of Social Media made my plight known to family and friends throughout the country and they pulled in their forces to get me necessary assistance, while also offering their good humor and empathy on those days when I needed to vent. Even the act of calling a friend was a challenge that I found exhausting. I limited myself to one call a day. With diligent adherence to rehab exercises, determination and practice, I regained full mobility and am now on my neurologist’s research team visualizing the data from his study! The round format of the crochet resembles a mandala, a spiritual symbol representing the Universe. In a sense, I depended on the universe or many people for my recovery.

 I view my role as an artist to be synonymous with that of an educator and as such have always included teaching as part of my art practice. This project is inherently a form of community outreach to educate the public about strokes., to bring cutting edge science to the public in a more direct manner and hopefully reach more people as a result. The work is challenging in its construction.  I am currently trying to figure out how to crochet a mandala illustrating asymmetrical relationships while still using the symmetrical format of crocheting in the round.   ©2015-Lindsay-Obermeyer-Charting-a-crocheted-Mandala-for-socialnetneuro

The installation will eventually include 1600 crocheted images, one for each of the stroke patients to be annually admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. While that number is staggering, it is even a greater shock to know that there are 795,000 stroke patients a year, which is twice the size of the St. Louis population.  Ideally I’d like the installation to travel with new mandalas being added at each new site until  795,000 are accumulated, thus making it an artwork made for the community and which is also partially constructed by this same community. Though these additional mandalas may not be encoded with the data from the research, they will allow the public to directly commemorate a family or friend who has suffered  a stroke.   

Sharon Stone on surviving her brain Anneurysm


“A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water.”  ― Eleanor Roosevelt

I love how she refers to the starting over process as being that of a phoenix.  Lovely.  Yes, you lose everything when your brain is traumatized, but by starting over again, life is indeed richer and more powerful. Such beauty and hope in this short video. It doesn't speak directly to the research or the art, but I had to include for all the fellow survivors out there.


A review of the process in translating data into fine art


“Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” 
― A.A. Milne

I love this quote.  It is one Piglet says to Winnie the Pooh and was commonly seen in the Arts and Healthcare room at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.  Watch the video and please consider getting involved.

Free Pattern :: Crochet Mandala Dishcloths


While most of the mandalas I've been making have been for artistic purposes, inclusion in the Social Awaress / Social Networks and Stroke Recovery Project, I love their form, so I designed these easy to crochet dishcloths.  I could sew them into my the artwork, but actually I am using them in my kitchen and bath. I couldn't resist.  They aadd great jolts of color and make me smile.  For the directions- Go to my Blog.


Contributors : Stroke Awareness Mandala Project


I have to show you some of the new work which has been contributed to the project.  There are two aspects of the project, the one aspect I call the diagrams.  They are a direct data visualization of the data from Dr. Amar Dhand's Social Networks and Stroke Recovery Project.  As the project developed, it became apparent from my postings on social media of work in progress, that there were many folks out there who wished to contribute work in honor of a family member who had suffered a stroke or other form of brain trauma.  And so the stroke awareness aspect of the project was born. With it the leading cause of adult disability and affecting 795,000 people in 2014 and the numbers aren't dropping.  It is time to bring awareness as getting to the hospital quickly means the difference between life and death, movement and disability.  There are many folks using the motif of a crocheted mandala to raise awareness for various illnesses including lupus and depression.  Both of these horrid illnesses have prersonally affected members of my family.  My mom eventually died from lupus related complications.  So why strokes?  And why a mandala.  Well, there is a long history to the mandala being about wholeness and completion and with stroke patients essentially in losing a part of their brain, they are often reduced to a shell of their former selves.  Each experience is different for each patient, but the struggle to walk and talk is very real and with their brain chemistry permanently altered, many also suffer from depression.  So the mandala seemed fitting.  There are also the specific reasons for crocheting which I've already covered in this blog. 

But without further ado, let  me Introduce you to the work of Julie Shay, a St. Louis artist and extraordinary crocheter.  On the day of the project's opening at Barnes Jewish Hospital, she arrived with not one but two of these huge wildly colorful mandalas to add to the project.  I couldn't stitch them on the project for St. Louis, so they will travel to Chicago where they will be on display this fall.  


I am hoping you will join me in this project with a contribution.  Please leave me message for me to send you my personal address.

Crocheted Tree Ring Social Network Diagrams

4' x 6' panel with diagrams of data from Research of Dr. Amar Dhand, crocheted wool and acrylic, photo credit: Larry Sanders

Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty. ~Sicilian Proverb

As the resident artist on the research team,  my job was to visualize in some manner the research of Dr. Amar Dhand and make it more accessible to the general public.  After a number of open studio visits, it became apparent that the public wanted to see the art be encoded with the actual data.  They wanted it to be a literal translation.  I was stumped.  I was side-tracked by the pretty diagrams Dr. Dhand produced with R, but I also found them visually messy and not telling the whole story over time.  And so my research began in data visualization.  I poured through twitter posts, websites and such.  My visual parameters where that I wanted to stay with a round format as the circle is a symbol of wholeness and the universe and I really wanted to tell the story of the patient's network over time. It was also key that the patient remain in the center which evidently is counter to how most social network diagrams are constructed. As a stroke survivor, it was important to me that the patient be at the center, especially as the research is to hopefully create an intervention that will help the patient.

If you love data visualization, then  Manuel Lima's  fabulous book Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Complexity is a must read.  After reading his introduction into how family trees are the earliest form of data visualization and how that could also be shown as a tree ring I knew I had found the solution to my problem. But while I could make my art, was there any code out there that the doctor could run his data through?  It seemed to me  that the two must work together. This led me to a paper out of the University College of Dublin and the University of St. Andrews. They wrote code that was less node linked driven and allowed for the dimension of time.

I knew from many crochet experiments that I could create a tree ring diagram.  


The patient is the red at center. Time is represented by a color family.  I used a value scale of green in this example. The contrasting, complementary color of pink  represents the nodes.  I don't differentiate between strong and weak links as I wasn't given that data.  It could easily be done, but is not present in this example. The first ring is the network upon arrival at the hospital.  The second ring is the network at 3 months and the final ring is  at 6 months.  You can see how the networks make a shift over time.  Working the data in textiles allows for certain advantages not available on a computer.  I can shift the read with color and physical textures. Several diagrams  I crocheted, the nodes are worked in a bobble stitch,  so a person who is visually impaired may 'read' the data. 

The backdrop reminded me of the blue of the sea. A net is used to fish and a form of net is being used to collect the data. This particular shade of blue is also the chosen color used in the Come Back Strong campaign of the American Stroke Association. And of course the ultimate goal of the research is to help the patient come back strong. 

As it takes a network of support to aid the patient in their healing process, I've come to depend on my creative network to see the full  completion of this body of work.  It makes me nutty that the leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease and that the leading cause of adult disability are strokes and yet there is so little public awareness of it.  Every October, the United States is awash in pink. This attention on Breast Cancer has lead to many women's lives being saved.  They are getting mammograms which leads to early detection and greater survival. We need to see the same media blitz on heart disease and strokes. By the time I completed the panel of diagrams and several hundred mandalas, my hands were sore, yet I am aiming for 1,600 mandalas to represent the 1,600 stroke patients admitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 2014.  It's a drop in the bucket of  the total 795,000 stroke patients in 2014.  1,600 seems small in comparison to 795,000. but that is a whole bunch of crocheting. Crocheters (knitters too) around the globe are making mandala contributions.  I don't know if I will make my goal, but then again when I had my stroke I didn't know in what way my social network would assist me. I don't try to control this part, I just share my story and hope that I can make my goal.  So far I've collected nearly 300 donated mandalas, mostly from a volunteer at BJC in the Arts and Healthcare department by the name of Yvonne.  Katherine Hull has crocheted two of the sure to be three blue panels which totals 10x10 feet of filet crochet.  That is a ton of crochet and took weeks to complete.  I'm even finding that yarn companies are helping out.  Lion Brand Yarns contribute the blue yarn.  So many different hands are involved in the making as they were involved in my healing.


Crochet and Knit Mandalas


Social-network-diagrams-heart disease-and-stroke recovery

I hope you want to join me in bringing awareness about the number one killer of women in the United States.  No, it's not breast cancer.  It's actually heart disease.  Annually 795,000 Americans have a stroke.  These don't just happen to the elderly.  I'm not yet 50 and I had a stroke last year.  I've met children who've had strokes as well as young adults.  It's scary! Strokes are the leading cause of Adult Disability.  Do you know the signs of a stroke?  If not, please review them and commit them to memory.  It could mean the difference in saving the life of a family member or friend. Basically 1 in 4 Americans die from heart disease when you combine strokes with heart attacks.

So what can you do?  My idea is simple.  We need to collectively bring a ton of awareness to heart disease if we are going to turn around the numbers in this country.  Just as we have with Breast Cancer awareness. As a result, more women are having mammograms and cancers are being caught earlier, in time to cure many of them.  I want to see that happen with heart disease. I really don't want anyone to experience what I did.

I've been crocheting mandalas to represent the 1,600 stroke patients last year at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Ideally I want to collect 795,000 - one for every American whose had a stroke.  By making them and sharing what you learn about heart disease, you can share information that may save another person. Just as crochet and knitting is a process in which each loop is dependent on the other for a stable fabric, I believe in applying that metaphor to our society.  Our general good health means supporting each other and sharing vital info.  While to date, the mandalas have been crocheted, they could also be knit.  Think of the top of Fair Isle tams for inspiration.  Here are some links to get you started. 






You may of course decide to just knit concentric circles of color!






If you wish to join in, I will be posting each person's contribution and their name if they so wish along with the name of anyone they wish to contribute a mandala in the name of.  These are great stash busters! 

Why a Mandala?  Mandalas are a spiritual symbol representing the universe.  You see them across cultures.  In various religious traditions they are used to focus meditation and prayer. They have become a symbol for healing and wholeness when one feels their body and life has been fractured by illness.  The act of making these little treasures I find very soothing. I wear a Fitbit heart monitor and find that my heart beats less rapidly when I make one.  It's not a scientifically proven fact, just a personal observation.

Answers to basic Questions:

How big should they be?   Any size is fine.

Should I use specific colors? This is about your creativity.  I would like that very center point  be red for the sake of consistency, otherwise choice of color, yarn, and texture are up to you.

Where should I send my contribution? Leave a comment requesting my address and I will email it to you.

What happens to them?  I am attaching them to a turquoise blue background (the yarn Vanna's Choice was graciously donated by Lion Brand Yarns.  These crocheted panels are 5 feet by 5 feet each and being made my  friend, Kathleen Hull.  The panels make it easy and quick to install the mandalas in a wide variety of settings.  I will  initally be showing them at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in January.  Afterward I'd like to see the panels travel around the country.  Imagine walking into a room filled with 795,000 mandalas!  It's just crazy enough that we may make an impact.  I say we as I do need your help.  My wrists can only handle so much and it will be more meaningful if more participate.

The first contribution is from Yvonne of St. Louis.  Thank you  Yvonne!!!!!!

Yvonne's crocheted-Mandalas-for-heart-disease

In getting this project started I have many people and organizations I wish to thank:

Dr. Amar Dhand - my neurologist who first gave me the opportunity to work in his lab and which then went on to inspire this work.  Please take a look at his research into Social Networks and Stroke Recovery.

The Regional Arts Commission  of St. Louis for their initial grant. You gave me the seed money to get started!

Sarah Colby - Arts and Healthcare coordinator at Barnes-Jewish who has allowed me to take up residence in her art room.  And to all the amazing patients who routinely come by to see the progress and cheer me on!

Mixalakis Tsiaklides and Selena Lee, fellow lab members, who  share their good humor and encouragement.  They went as far learning to crochet!

Julia Riew - a local high school student who has composed beautiful music to correspond with the initial exhibition.

Kathleen Hull for assisting me in crocheting the huge blue backdrops.

The Knitting Ministry at the Church of St. Michael and St. George in St. Louis for encouraging and inspiring me to think big.

Lion Brand Yarn for supporting me with their generous yarn donation!

And of course all who stopped by to see my work at Vogue Knitting Live!  Your feedback proved invaluable.


Free Crochet Mandala Patterns


In such cases it is easy to see how the severe pattern imposed by a circular image of this kind compensates the disorder of the psychic state– namely through a the construction of a central point to which everything is related, or by a concentric arrangement of the disordered multiplicity and of contradictory and irreconcilable elements. This is evidently an attempt at self-healing on the part of Nature, which does not spring from conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse. -- Carl Jung Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious


When beginning my research on how to create the mandalas with specific coded medical data, I turned to other crocheters to learn how they made their mandalas.  Some are simple in construction while others have charts that read like computer code.  It was like freshman year in college when I spent hours at the museum sketching the masters.  The links I've posted are free patterns from around the world. Each teaching me a new technique that has lead me to the construction of the Social Networks and Stroke Recovery Project.  Enjoy them.  Send me a picture of your finished mandala. I'd love to post it on the blog.  

Karin aan de Haak

Attic 24

Marinke Slump Spoke Mandala - I'm still working on perfecting the elongated double crochet stitch, I can't seem to get my tension just right. ARGH!

Jennifer Martin Flower Potholder

For more inspiration, check out my Pinterest Board.



Getting started.

When I met with Dr. Dhand regarding his research and my use of it in an art installation.  I was faced with this amazing wall of data.which you can see behind me in the photo. As an artist, I loved all the lines. Were those post-it notes really illustrating specific data about the health of patients?!  The drawings were later formalized into the computerized renderings which have a lovely graphic quality to them. The position of the patient is in the center in the drawings which makes more sense to me as the patient is embedded in  the center of his or her social network while in the computerized rendering the patient is located at the top position.


In both, the lines resembled threads to me which seemed a fitting metaphor. Thread appears as the symbol of life in  Greek Mythology. There are the Three Fates or Moirai, sister deities who spun the fate and destiny of humans.  One spun the thread while another determined the length of ones's life and the third inevitably cut the thread. My immediate reaction to making art about this research was to create a series of machine stitched webs, such as the example below.  ©2015-Lindsay-Obermeyer-Thread-Sketch-for Social-Networks-and -Stroke-Recovery-Project

I wanted something inherently fragile as in my experience the social networks of one's family and friends are just that, fragile.  Think of all the tension that flies around the dining table on Thanksgiving!  While metaphorically, I thought I was on the right path. The process of making was very limiting.  Each panel would need to be machine embroidered using a sewing machine and Solvy.  After a year of being cooped up in my house recovering from my stroke. I couldn't stand the thought of being tied to one location.  Besides I had learned through The Red Thread Project® that the best way to start a conversation about your art is to be making it in front of your audience which meant  knitting or crocheting.  I chose crochet for all the reasons mentioned in my artist statement.  And began experimenting.  I started setting up my portable crochet studio at various cafes around St. Louis.  One time while on the Amtrak to Chicago, a medical student sat next to me and asked what I was doing.  I told her and soon she got about a dozen classmates also on the train to crochet along with her. ( Yes, I always carry extra hooks and yarn with me just in case.) This process of sharing information is exactly what I wanted. Part art installation, part perfromance art and part community art, the idea is to educate and share information which I do through the final installation and the use of this blog, but with one person at a time at my local coffee shop.

©2015 Lindsay-Obermyer-Social-NEtworks-And-STroke-Recovery-photo-by-Larry-Sanders ©2015-Lindsay-Obermeyer-Social-Networks-and-Stroke-Recovery-photo-by-Larry-Sanders