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22 sculptures displayed at Brain Extravaganza


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By Jaclyn Lansbery



Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s one of the reasons Jill Bolte Taylor’s nonprofit BRAINS, Inc., aims to educate the public about brain awareness and appreciation.

On Saturday in the Bloomington High School South Auxiliary Gymnasium, 22 brain sculptures were on display for the launch of “Brain Extravaganza!” The display will be followed by the temporary installation of the brains throughout Bloomington until October.

About 400 to 500 people attended the premiere.

The brains had themes relating to their sponsors, which were mostly Bloomington businesses.

“You know, it was beautiful,” said Taylor, who helped sculpt and paint two of the brains on display. “This is a dream come true for me, and it’s been so many details for so long. It’s been my heart and soul, and now I get to give it to the world.”

On Dec. 10, 1996, Taylor woke up and couldn’t talk, read, write or recall any of her life. Before realizing that she was suffering a stroke, Taylor said she fell into a “state of peaceful grace.” It took her eight years to fully recover the left side of her brain, which was hemorrhaged by a blood clot. In 2008, Taylor’s New York Times bestseller, “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey,” was published,and later that year, Taylor was named as one of Time Magazine’s most influential people.

Now, 30 years after graduating from IU, Taylor said she wants to give back to the Bloomington community.

“I kind of saw my job as get the brains done, get the brains out, get the word out and then let people enjoy it,” she said.

Each anatomically correct, 5-foot-tall brain includes a plaque with the name of the sponsor, a list of brain facts and a question. People can plug their answer to the question into a phone application that allows visitors to construct their brain by coloring in sections through each installation site. To do this, visitors have to be within 25 feet of the brain.

This week, all the brains except for one — which will be installed at College Mall this Friday — will be put in their respective places. Nine of them will be on the IU campus, and 13 will be located throughout the town.

Because the mission of BRAINS, Inc., is to promote exploration, education, injury prevention, neurological recovery and the value of movement on mental and physical health, the brains also represent how different conditions — depression, music, religion, aging and more — affect the brain.

Bloomington artist David Ebbinghouse, with his nephew and IU freshman Connor Ebbinghouse, created the “sleep and pain” brain, which was sponsored by Dr. David Lawler, a Bloomington dentist who helps raise awareness for sleep disorders.

David said when he was first approached for the project, he hesitated because he doesn’t prefer to replicate others’ ideas. But after hearing about the brain’s theme, David said he “let the right side of my brain go.”

On Saturday, this brain was displayed in front of the gymnasium. Tall, bright yellow lightning bolts stick out from the top of the brain, with large gray “Z’s” hanging from the bottom.

“The idea is that there is some relationship between pain and sleep, and that’s what we’re trying to do with the motifs,” David said. “But then, just on a more general level, even if you don’t read the symbols, somehow lightning bolts and brains just go together.”

Bloomingfoods Market & Deli sponsored a brain that artist Bonnie Gordon-Lucas designed. The theme of this brain illustrates the different foods that improve the overall brain function.

“I’ve always been into nutrition, which is why I wanted this particular assignment,” Gordon-Lucas said. “But finding out what parts of the brain were affected by what foods was a real challenge.”

Gordon-Lucas, who is also an illustrator for children’s books, said she hopes that when people see the brain at west-side Bloomingfoods, adults and children will be better educated.

Every student from Pinnacle School contributed to the design of a brain that demonstrated the three areas that are primarily affected by dyslexia. Pinnacle, which also sponsored this brain, offers specific programs for students with dyslexia.

“People don’t understand that people with dyslexia are smart and they are creative and they put ideas together, they just have some difficulty reading and writing,” said Pinnacle Executive Director Denise Lessow. “So they thought it was important to get that message across.”

After the brains are taken down in Bloomington, Taylor said she would love to see them at Times Square, where it is not rare for “big art” to be displayed.

Until now, creating the brains has been a collaborative effort.

“From that perspective, literally hundreds of warm bodies have been involved in this process in one way or another,” she said, admitting that she has no idea what the next step will be after the brains have been displayed around Bloomington. “We’re open to possibilities, and that’s part of the beauty of being in the right brain because the right brain isn’t going to say we’re going to think in a box and define it. We’re going to let it manifest as it wants to manifest.”

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A brain sculpture designed by David Ebbinghouse and Connor Ebbinghouse sits outside the IU Auditorium on Sunday. Steph Langan Buy Photos

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