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The City Journals

Artist spotlight: Taylorsville’s ‘Knotty Lady’ copes with Parkinson’s

Mar 28, 2017 04:55PM ● By Tori LaRue
By Tori La Rue | [email protected]
Many things changed from Taylorsville artist Dawn Steinike when she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but her favorite hobby didn’t.

The 62-year-old “knotty lady,” as she jokingly calls herself, continues the Victorian craft of knotting lace, called tatting. Steinike wraps thread around a tool called a shuttle and guides the thread into patterns, creating decorative signs, jewelry, slip on shoes, pins, lanyards, ornaments and other decorations.

“When I tat, I don’t even remember I have Parkinson’s,” she said. “It’s just gone.”
Parkinson’s, a chronic and progressive movement disorder, can affect people differently, but Steinke said it causes her hands to tremble, makes her sleepy, provokes forgetfulness and contributes to her depression. Despite these symptoms, Steinke has continued to excel in her chosen art medium of more than 30 years.

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, a division of the Parkinson’s Foundation, honored Steinike by placing a photo of her piece “Tatted Target” in its 2017 Creativity and Parkinson’s calendar. Steinike was one of 13 artists across the nation to receive this recognition.
“It was such an amazing feeling of disbelief when I found out I had been selected,” Steinike said. “I couldn’t believe that I was chosen out of all of the people who submitted their work. It’s a huge thing for me.”

Steinike, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2012, chose to enter “Tatted Target” into the competition because it was one of the creations she finished most recently. The red and white, circular target, complete with beading, is a symbol to Steinike.

“I hang it at my desk at work,” she said. “It consistently reminds me that I need to stay on target.”

Parkinson’s has made Steinike’s full-time job as an accounting tech at the Department of Workforce Services a little more challenging, she said. Sometimes she said she falls asleep at her desk or “stares into nothing,” but she said her co-workers help snap back into the moment.
Her job may be harder for her now than it was 10 years ago when she started, but she said the support system she has from her coworkers makes the trial worth it. She tries to give back to her work community when she can, she said.

When her department, which takes care of unemployment insurance for the state, won the “Triple Crown” award for the having the best operational functions in the nation in 2016, she tatted 3-D crowns for her superiors, complete with intricate knots and beading.
She also tatted a frog family for a friend in her office. creating flat, lace frog figurines for each member of her colleague's family.

These are the types of art projects that Steinike said she likes the most— the kind she can create for others, but she keeps a few designs for herself, too.

Steinike said she struggled to keep plants alive even though she said she wanted one for her desk at work. She used a Japanese tatting pattern to create a 3-D lace flower arrangement for her desk. She picked the types of flowers for the arrangement strategically, placing a yellow tulip, the flower that represents Parkinson’s disease, and a sunflower, a common flower found in her husband's hometown, prominently in the piece.

In addition to tatting, Steinike said her husband, Bob Steinike, is one of the major reasons she’s able to find happiness as an artist throughout her journey with Parkinson’s. Earlier in life, Steinke's husband was in a major electrical accident, and she took care of him.
“Now the roles have switched, and he is there to tell me when to slow down a bit,” she said. “I’ve got everything I need to be happy.”

Parkinson’s reduces dopamine levels, and dopamine is a chemical that’s tied to emotions. Steinike said she went through a bout of depression with Parkinson’s but consulted with professionals to learn how to manage it through medication and focusing on the things that she loves. 

“I’ve realized that this disease is not going to kill me,” she said. “I’m going to live a long life, even if that means I am going to shake my way through it. I’ve decided that I’m going to hold on to the things that are dear to me and embrace the adventure.”