knitted bar chart illustrating co2 levels over time

CREATORS – Rickie van Berkum

In ALL, CREATORS by Alice Fleerackers

Name: Rickie van Berkum

Which came first in your life, the science or the art?

Science came first; I have always been fascinated by the ecological relationships between animals, plants, and the world around them. I pursued this interest through a PhD in Zoology and, afterwards, through rainforest conservation work. My love of knitting also started early but it is only recently that I began creating my own designs and considering the possibilities and constraints of hand-knits as an artistic medium.

In 2017, I became concerned by the devaluation of science and data by our leadership and some of the public. I feel strongly that decisions at all levels are best made when relevant data are considered. My response was to develop a novel approach to telling the stories of science. I work with the tension between hard science and a traditional hand craft with familiar positive associations: hand-knitting.

“I became concerned by the devaluation of science and data by our leadership and some of the public. I feel strongly that decisions at all levels are best made when relevant data are considered.”

Rickie van Berkum
knitted bar chart showing changes in family wealth over time
Family Wealth 3 by Rickie van Berkum: In the US, family wealth became more concentrated in the top 10% of families (green) from 1989-2010.
knitted bar chart showing changes in family wealth over time
Family Wealth 2 by Rickie van Berkum

Which sciences relate to your art practice?

Much of my work involves climate science and social sciences, but I create pieces that show rigorous science in any field that affects our lives, including wildfire, gun safety, economics, and biodiversity. My challenge as an artist is to create pieces that are appealing and welcoming to non-scientists and scientists alike.

knitted bar chart showing gender differences in wage
A Gender Difference 2 by Rickie van Berkum: Women’s average hourly wages (rust) were lower than men’s (blue) average hourly wages in 2015 at all education levels.
knitted bar chart showing gender differences in wage
A Gender Difference 2 by Rickie van Berkum

What materials do you use to create your artworks?

My artwork is created from yarn made from a blend of soft merino wool and silk, knit with wooden knitting needles. This yarn works up soft and cozy but with clear stitch definition. Colours show brightly on the yarn, enhanced by the hint of sheen from the silk. I dye my yarns using professional acid dyes. I like the juxtaposition of the comfort of the yarn and the rigor of the data that I’m presenting.

“I like the juxtaposition of the comfort of the yarn and the rigor of the data that I’m presenting.”

Rickie van Berkum

My trusty laptop and the internet are my tools for research and translating peer-reviewed data into knittable pieces.

knitted bar chart showing gender differences in corporate promotions
Women in Corporate America by Rickie van Berkum: In corporate America, fewer women than men are hired and fewer women are promoted as they move up the corporate ladder.
knitted bar chart showing gender differences in corporate promotions
Women in Corporate America (detail) by Rickie van Berkum
knitted bar chart showing differences in gun-related deaths in blue vs red states
Gun Safety by Rickie van Berkum: US states with stronger gun safety laws have fewer gun-related deaths.

Artwork/Exhibition you are most proud of:

I am most proud of pieces that encourage viewers to discuss the underlying science and consider how the data might impact their thinking. Some examples: Women in Corporate America, Gun Safety, Unintended Consequences, and Rich Man Poor Man.

knitted bar chart showing the rise of CO2 levels
Unintended Consequences 2 by Rickie van Berkum: Human-caused carbon dioxide emissions have shown a large increase since the 1850’s.
knitted bar chart showing the rise of CO2 levels
Unintended Consequences 3 by Rickie van Berkum
knitted bar chart showing the rise of CO2 levels
Unintended Consequences 4 by Rickie van Berkum
knitted bar chart showing racial differences in income
Rich Man Poor Man by Rickie van Berkum: Race impacts the future incomes of boys raised in rich households. Black adult men (blue) who were raised in rich households ended up in lower-income brackets than white adult men (gray) who were raised in rich households

Which scientists and/or artists inspire and/or have influenced you?

My graduate advisor, Dr. Raymond Huey, was a great model of the importance of telling the stories in science.

My work is about interpreting science by telling stories, and I am so inspired by science journalists who excel at this, especially Kendra Pierre-Louis, Flora Graham, who writes the Nature Briefing for Nature, and the editors of Science News.

Artists who have inspired me include fiber artists Kaffe Fassett and Kristin Nichols, along with painters Sandro Botticelli, Johannes Vermeer, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko, and Helen Frankenthaler. My growth as an artist has been inspired by painters and friends Julie T. Chapman and Liz Chappie-Zoller.

Yellowstone Wolves, Elk, and Beavers 2 by Rickie van Berkum: Populations of elk (orange) declined and beaver (blue) increased after wolves (gray) were introduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995.
knitted graph showing changes in transition speed over time.
Hurricanes Lingering by Rickie van Berkum: The speed that hurricanes move across the landscape (called ‘translation speed’—not the same as wind speed) has decreased since 1949.

Is there anything else you want to tell us?

I strive to present only the strongest and clearest science in my pieces. The research for my work includes reading the original peer-reviewed publications that present the data, and often consulting with other scientists and statisticians.

Find our more at Rickie van Berkum’s website, Facebook, or Instagram.

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About the Author
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Alice Fleerackers

Alice is a freelance writer, a researcher at the ScholCommLab, and an editor at the Art the Science blog. With degrees in both psychology and publishing, she is fascinated by the confluence of science and story, and is passionate about bringing research into everyday life. As a journalist, she’s had the pleasure of interviewing media specialists, psychotherapists, anthropologists, and many others on everything from the psychology of cat videos to the “science” of astrology. In her spare time, she rides her bike, dabbles in spoon carving, and—yes—occasionally, reads her horoscope. Twitter: @FleerackersA