Seth Chwast of Cleveland Heights was diagnosed as autistic at a very young age and his world was very limited.
But a dramatic change came in 2003, when, at age 20, he took an oil painting class at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Seth, who rarely speaks, began describing himself through art. He displayed an innate ability to mix colors and create amazing works of art that reflect his vision of the world.
Since then, he has traveled the world to train, gain experience and exhibit his colorful and often abstract work. NBC’s “Today” show did a segment on him in 2007.
An exhibition of Seth’s work will open Sunday at the Butler Institute of American Art, 524 Wick Ave., and run through May 11.
The exhibition is part of the Mahoning Valley office of the Autism Society of America’s recognition of National Autism Awareness Month.
“The Butler is pleased and proud to serve the community with this exhibition to heighten awareness of the artistic talents of people with special needs,” said Louis Zona, curator and director of the Butler, in a press release. “We find Seth’s work both enlightening and inspiring.”
Seth has fascinated art experts with his ability. His work has won competitions and has been featured on a United Nations postal stamp.
Credit for his transformation goes in large measure to his mother, Debra, who refused to accept one professional evalutation that her son seek a job dry mopping.
Debra tried every form of therapy for her son, including the art class, which changed his life.
“Art has given Seth a voice, a passion, a pathway to friendship and an ever-expanding world,” she said.
On Sunday, a series of free events will accompany the exhibition — titled “The Artistic Autistic Mind: A Glimpse at the Works of Seth Chwast” — at the Butler.
Art as Therapy Workshop, 1 p.m.: Parents, teachers and therapists will learn how to implement some techniques to benefit special-needs people.
A Mother’s Story, 1 p.m.: Debra Chwast, Seth’s mother, will share the story of how art transformed her son.
A Visual Process, 2 p.m.: Diane Maytas, clinical counselor and art therapist, will speak.
Children’s Art Class, 1 p.m.: Families with children on the autism spectrum are invited to this supportive class, create an art piece inspired by Seth’s work, and tour the museum.
Gallery talk, book signing and reception, 3 p.m.: Seth Chwast and Debra Chwast will be on hand at this session, which will include the screening of the eight- minute documentary “A Different Kind of Journey.”
The Butler is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.