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Survivor's hand-stitched tapestry hangs in American Stroke Association's national office

Posted: April 6, 2014 - 7:19pm  |  Updated: April 6, 2014 - 7:54pm
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Eugene Brown once made part of his living by creating collages and tapestry art and, after a stroke sidelined his right hand, retaught himself using his left hand. Here, Brown works on a new piece at the Brooks Clubhouse in Jacksonville.  Bob.Mack@jacksonville.com
Bob.Mack@jacksonville.com
Eugene Brown once made part of his living by creating collages and tapestry art and, after a stroke sidelined his right hand, retaught himself using his left hand. Here, Brown works on a new piece at the Brooks Clubhouse in Jacksonville.

Eugene Brown briefly felt sorry for himself after a 2003 stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body.

His nurse at Brooks Rehabilitation on Jacksonville’s Southside, where he was recovering, then talked him into taking an excursion outside, where he saw a double amputee jump out of an airplane and parachute onto the Brooks lawn.

The scene stunned Brown out his funk.

“Man, if he can do that, I can get up out of this wheelchair and walk, and I walked,” he said proudly in a recent interview.

Brown, now 80, also taught his left hand to do what his right hand had been doing for much of his life — creating tapestries and other art works. He used his experience to help other stroke and heart patients through art therapy and become an inspirational poster boy of sorts for Brooks and the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

“That is my goal. To be an inspiration,” said Brown, currently back in a wheelchair after a recent illness. “If you have a setback ... It does not mean your life is over. Don’t give up.

“As long as you can do anything, don’t give up,” he said.

Several of his tapestry pieces hang in the Brooks complex on the Southside. In 2013, the Heart and Stroke associations commissioned him to create a signature tapestry art piece representative of recovery and inspiration. That piece was presented to the nonprofits in February and now hangs in their national headquarters in Dallas.

“That was a big surprise,” he said. “It turned out well.”

The tapestry is a landscape scene, with three large bright-colored trees on a lush green space, topped by blue sky and a few white clouds and the nonprofits’ heart symbol. His inspiration, Brown said, came from heaven and the three trees symbolize the Christian doctrine of the trinity.

“This is the way I work,” he said. “It is directed by the spirit. I hear what he’s telling me to do ... I let God create through me.”

He is a regular at Brooks Clubhouse, a full-time day program that offers a range of activities for people who have experienced a brain injury. The Clubhouse, which is part of Brooks Rehabilitation but located at another site, is the only program of its kind in Florida.

“Eugene is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Kathy Martin, Brooks Clubhouse Manager. “He embraces every part of life and always seeks out the positive. It’s that positive attitude that helps with his recovery.”
Brown has had artistic tendencies since he was a child. His family discouraged him from pursuing art as a career, preferring that he have a more secure livelihood. So after a stint in the Army, he became a security guard, with gigs on the side as an art instructor.

He has done collages and stained glass, among other works. But tapestries, done with what he called a “plain stitch,” are his main focus. He came to tapestries accidentally, after he was in an art class making rugs and he was too pleased with his work to put it on the floor.

“Nobody was going to put their feet on that, so I hung it on the wall,” he said.

Decades later, even as he recovers from his recent illness at Heartland Health Care Center in Jacksonville, Brown is still at it. All he needs is a needle and thread and a table and he goes right to work.

His current project is a tapestry of flowers for one admirer, which will be followed by another piece featuring fish for another. In his younger years, he sold his work, but now gives them to friends.

“I was always interested in art. It was always in me,” he said.

Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109

 

TO LEARN MORE

May is National Stroke Month. Warning signs are facial drooping or numbness, arm or leg numbness or weakness and speech difficulty. Other symptoms are sudden severe headache with no known cause, sudden confusion or trouble understanding, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes or sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination. For more information, go to strokeassociation.org or brookshealth.org/stroke-recovery.

Comments (1)

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PhDBlack
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PhDBlack 04/07/14 - 11:02 am
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Keep at it.....Brown...great

Keep at it.....Brown...great story....

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