When her autistic son turned twenty, a vocational counsellor told Debra Chwast that Seth was unsuited for anything more challenging than janitorial work.
He could not cross the street aloneâ€”or even be left at home aloneâ€”or have a conversation. But instead of putting a mop in his hand, Debra brought him to a painting class at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Seth, who rarely speaks, began describing his world in fantastical paintings… and miraculously, her world and Sethâ€™s changed forever.
Join Debra and Seth Chwast at Books & Books on Thursday 22 March at 7pm for the Cayman Islands launch of their inspirational memoir, An Unexpected Life: A Mother and Sonâ€™s Story of Love, Determination, Autism, and Art.
In addition to an author presentation, group discussion and book signing, works by Seth will be on display at this free event.
About the Book
Debra Chwast and her husband were ecstatic when they learned she was pregnant after years of trying. Yet their hopes seemed shattered when their son, Sethâ€”an inquisitive, cheerful childâ€”was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. At first they tried to deny it, then to cure it. Along the way, their marriage foundered. But neither of them gave up on Seth. And Debra, especially, devoted herself to improving his life and finding ways to make him happy.
Seth was remarkable, despite his difficulties learning language and other social skills. His raw musical ability astonished professional musicians. He delighted in rollercoasters and haunted houses. Yet notwithstanding the efforts of his parents, teachers, doctors, and therapists, the promise of this extraordinary boy was unfulfilledâ€”until an art class opened the door to a prodigious and undreamed-of talent and creativity. Almost immediately, paintings of breath-taking beauty began to pour forth from Sethâ€”vibrant, energetic works reproduced here in all their stunning inventiveness, fantastic imagery, and inspired sense of colour and composition.
When Debra produced a short documentary about Seth and his art, she opened another door: one that led to appearances on the Today Show, NPR, and PBS, as well as to solo exhibits in art galleries and public buildings from Cleveland, where the Chwasts live, to New York City, where Seth shares a studio with his mentor and fellow artist, Kip Jacobs, to the Cayman Islands and the Galapagos Islands.
Sethâ€™s paintings continue to evolve and speak to people around the world. Some might call him an Outsider Artist. But the truth is, his work touches so many others because itâ€™s insider art: evoking not only whatâ€™s inside him, but also whatâ€™s inside usâ€”the common humanity that our greatest artists have focused on.
An Unexpected Life will strike a chord with anyone who knows the daily strugglesâ€”and triumphsâ€”of a life with special needs, whether personally or through family or friends. But itâ€™s about more than that. This moving book explores how the power of love can challenge expectations and change livesâ€”no matter what the odds.
An Unexpected Life is now available at Books & Books.
About the Author & Illustrator
Debra Chwast received a masterâ€™s in social work from UCLA Berkeley, and worked as a therapist for 33 years. In 1983 she gave birth to her only child, Seth. When he was diagnosed with autism at 21 months, Debra threw herself into an 18-year attempt to bring Seth into our world. She is now Sethâ€™s manager, travel agent, promoter andâ€”literallyâ€”his voice. Debra participates in panels on autism and provides keynote addresses about her life with Seth.
Seth Chwast was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. A dramatic change came in 2003, when Seth, who rarely speaks, began describing his world in paint. He has shown at Penn State College of Medicine, University Hospitals of Case Western Reserve, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the United Nations, the Time Equities Building in New York City, and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. His love of travel led to exhibitions in Galapagos, the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and CuraĂ§ao. Seth will have a solo exhibition entitled Mythic Creatures at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 2012. You can visit Seth at: www.SethChwastArt.com.