From life-size horses and unicorns in primary colors to a series of self-portraits, intricate scenes of Galapagos Islands and Manhattan, and numerous seascapes with whales, Seth Chwast’s artistic output is diverse, bold and prolific. Sixty of his paintings have sold from $1,000 to $10,000 each, but most of his 600 paintings are displayed throughout the large four-story house in Cleveland Heights in which he and his mother Debra live.
Chwast, 29, is autistic. Painting changed his world. When he was 18, a vocational evaluation recommended a career in dry mopping. However, when Chwast took his first art class at age 20 at The Cleveland Museum of Art in 2003, he found his calling. At 23, he was featured on NBC’s “Today” show for his artwork and story.
Chwast’s artwork will be on display and for sale at Milestones Autism Organization’s 10th anniversary celebration at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at Cleveland Marriott East in Warrensville Heights. A portion of the proceeds from Chwast’s paintings will be donated to Milestones.
In addition to Seth Chwast’s works, the gala will feature the music of acclaimed jazz pianist Matt Savage, 20, who was diagnosed with autism as a young child. WKYC news anchor Amanda Barren will serve as emcee. A tribute book created by Milestones and Cleveland Jewish News will be presented to participants. The celebration will honor four founding board members who helped launch Milestones a decade ago: Chantal Akerib, Bart Bookatz, Carol Lader and Sally Wertheim.
Debra Chwast praised Milestones for providing wonderful support for families.
“He is an icon of hope for the families of autistic children,” she said of her son. “Seth has terrific pride in his work.” For Seth, art show openings and book signings featuring his work are his “life events,” she said. “Every opening and book signing is a life event for him.”
Diagnosed with severe autism as a toddler, Chwast seemed trapped in his own insular universe, said his mother, who wrote the book “An Unexpected Life – A Mother and Son’s Story of Love, Determination, Autism and Art.” Aside from being a memoir, the book showcases her son’s artwork and carries a message of hope.
Seth Chwast has painted abstracts, islands, cityscapes, rollercoasters, skyscrapers, comets and northern lights and also sculpted numerous animals, both real and fantasy. He painted several island scenes for the opening of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands. His postage stamp depicting a mythical creature came in first in the world in a United Nations competition, launched in recognition of World Autism Day, April 2, 2012.
“Manhattan Floating,” a mural 11 feet by 26 feet, is Seth’s largest project to date. Consisting of 104 individual 16-by-24-inch panels completed in acrylic, the painting premiered at the Time Equities building at 55 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan on Nov. 9, 2010. The painting depicts the island’s skyline in bright colors along with amusement rides, sea scenes and a sunlit sky.
“Seth is very happy,” his mother said. “He keeps me hopping. He wants to travel, he wants (gallery) openings and he wants book signings. I have to keep creating the wheel, and I work on it two to eight hours a day every day of my life.”
Helping Seth stay on task is a steady stream of art students and graduates from The Cleveland Institute of Art. “They love working with Seth,” Debra Chwast said.
Milestones Autism Organization was founded in 2003 by Ilana Hoffer Skoff, now executive director, and Mia Buchwald Gelles, operations director, to promote lifelong strategies of success for individuals with autism, from childhood through adulthood. To improve the level of educational and therapeutic programming available to individuals with autism, Milestones focuses on training professionals, paraprofessionals and parents in research-based, successful educational interventions.
“For a decade, Milestones has been helping families and professionals navigate the barriers that autism poses,” Hoffer Skoff said. “We invite you to celebrate our accomplishments and look ahead to our future.”
What: Milestones Autism Organization’s 10th anniversary celebration
When: 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3
Where: Cleveland Marriott East, 26300 Harvard Road, Warrensville Heights
Info: 216-464-7600 or www.milestones.org