Eric & Heidi Knowlton – aka Stroke Boy and Seizure Girl
Wood Carvers / Sculptors / Painters / Photographers / Artists / Trout Bum / Occasional Poet
Stroke Survivor & Epileptic
Location: Eric & Heidi reside with their daughter in their home in Wasilla, Alaska. Happily married for 26 years as of 2016!
Heritage: Coos Indian, Tribal member of the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua & Siuslaw of coastal Oregon / English-Canadian
Eric grew up on a small farm at the head of the Willamette River valley in Oregon, near the town of Cottage Grove. Eric and his brothers enjoyed spending their summers riding bicycles to the nearby Row River to fish for rainbow and brook trout. Eric’s first trout was a male brook trout, caught on a Mepps Rooster Tail spinner, enticed from under the far cut bank in fast water. It’s a memory that has spawned a lifelong passion for trout fishing. Fall was a special time – the boys looked forward to time spent in the Cascade and Coast mountain ranges with their father and grandfathers hunting for deer, elk and upland game birds. Blue and ruffed grouse and mountain quail were Eric’s favorites. The family moved north to Alaska in 1983, and Eric was introduced to the Last Frontier’s seemingly endless numbers of salmon, trout, char, grayling, grouse & ptarmigan. As a teen growing up in Alaska’s largest city of Anchorage, Eric honed his fly fishing skills for trout and salmon in the local streams and lakes.
Eric traveled extensively in his early 20’s (United Kingdom, Kenya, all over US) but after meeting Heidi in 1990, marrying and moving to Oregon for a year, Alaska’s call beckoned them back north. Oregon’s coasts, streams and mountains will always be ‘home’ to Eric, but Alaska holds a special place as well, mostly due to the large number of big trout and incredible salmon runs available. Eric does most of his hunting with a camera now. Fly fishing trout is his passion.
Carving, wood working & painting:
Eric was introduced to woodworking through his father and grandfathers. His first carving was of a cedar chain, whittled with a pocket knife. His father took him to a class on chip carving as a teen which sparked the interest in creating with wood. As a teen, he helped in the construction of several homes, and would later build his own home and studio/shop. Eric learned airbrushing as a student at the King Career Center in Anchorage, where his teacher rated him as one of his top students.
In the early 1990’s, Eric saw a basic trout carving at a local shop which led to the discovery of Bob Berry’s 1988 book on Fish Carving. In 2004, Eric traveled to Grayling, Michigan to learn and refine his fish carving methods from World Champion fish carver Ed Walicki. Ed became Eric’s mentor, and they remained in contact until Ed’s passing in 2008. Eric would also lose his father in 2010 to a massive stroke. Eric dedicates his works to the memory of these two men who inspired him so much.
Stroke and recovery:
In March 2016, Eric suffered a basal ganglia stroke following surgery. The stroke caused the loss of his left side. He spent nearly a month at inpatient therapy, learning to stand, walk & use his left arm and hand again. Eric continues his therapy as an outpatient; walking & standing are still very difficult with the most improvement being able to move his left hand, although his left arm & hand are still weak and lack ability to grip, hold or pull. From the beginning, Eric has refused to allow the stroke to limit him. After getting home, he took up painting in acrylics on canvas and Bristol board as therapy to keep his creativity active. As his hand improved, he’s been attempting carving again, aided by a custom work holder crafted by his brother. With the assistance of family, his shop and studio have been modified to allow him to hopefully someday continue working. Family and friends assist by doing the heavy lifting and cutting larger blocks (bandsaws are not safe territory for him yet!) but his work has slowed to a maximum of 2 hours a day at present, due to fatigue.
Heidi has suffered from epilepsy (gran mal seizures – the really nasty ones) since her pre teens. She’s had brain surgery three times in her teens, and it controlled her condition for awhile. Around 16 years ago (in 2000), her seizures came back with a vengeance. Every medication and neurologist was tried in Alaska – Eric and Heidi even flew to Seattle to try to get help from the top specialist on the west coast. In 2015, Heidi finally received a VNS implant which continually monitors her condition and emits a small shock if it senses a seizure. She wears a magnet on her wrist to activate the implant (positioned in a similar location as a pace maker) if she feels a seizure coming on. It isn’t perfect, but it has helped her reduce the horrible effects of her seizures, which are still too frequent for comfort. Heidi takes care of Eric full time, but cannot drive, so they are very codependent. They jokingly refer to themselves as Stroke Boy and Seizure Girl, the worst super hero couple ever. Heidi has long handled shipping and packing.
Living and working in Alaska, Eric has only competed locally. He won grand champion in 2011 and first place in 2013 at the Alaska State Fair for wood carving. He hasn’t bothered with national taxidermy shows featuring wood carvings as the larger ones have typically award tropical non game fish carvings, a subject he does not carve. He may participate in the Ward Museums competition in the future. Competition is not something he really cares about, as he always strives for perfection. regardless. He prefers happy clients and the satisfaction derived from creating a piece that he also enjoys. At this time, he does not plan to compete in any future competitions due to his stroke.