Soulful 14-year-old painter inspires the world with big talent and an even bigger heart

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For most kids, 14 is an age of “becoming.” With those awkward tween years just behind, and those even more awkward teenage years still ahead, it’s a time when most kids are still getting to know themselves, and finding out what their gifts and callings might be. (Honestly, some of us are still trying to figure out what we’re meant to do on this Earth as adults—and that’s okay!)

But some children, like 14-year-old Autumn de Forest, a “painting prodigy,” found her calling long before her tweens. At a very young age she discovered by chance (or maybe provenance) that she was meant to be an artist.

De Forest created her first work of real art at the ripe age of five. According to her father, she grabbed a brush while he was working on a project in the garage and started “messing around” with it. But in that doodling fun, de Forest’s father “saw something worldly” behind the mess. Perhaps because she comes from a long line of artists (including three other 20th century de Forests) or perhaps just because her parents were good at knowing a gift when they saw one, her family encouraged her, taking de Forest to art galleries and helping her move from garage projects to paintings on canvas.

By age six, de Forest’s work appeared in a local art-in-the-park show, where attenders assumed her father had painted the work. By age eight, she’d appeared on Discovery and Disney Channel, and has since been featured on the Today Show, CNN, and Fox and in American Girl Magazine, the Huffington Post, Scholastic News, and Time for Kids.

Along the way de Forest was declared an actual “advanced child prodigy” by prodigy-expert Joanne Ruthsatz, Ph.D, of The Ohio State University.

But de Forest’s “celebrity” as a painting prodigy didn’t distract her, or diminish her commitment to her art and her craft. The home-schooled artist disciplines herself to dedicated studio time for an hour or two in the morning, then gets to her schooling, before returning to several more hours in the studio.

That dedication has paid off. Literally and figuratively. Her works have been displayed across the world and sold for millions of dollars. Last year, de Forest was honored at the Vatican with the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award for Painting and Art. And it’s not hard to see why she’s received so much money and recognition when you look at her paintings, which include stunning colorful abstracts, and incredibly soulful depictions of Mary, and Christ.

While there, a brief encounter with the Pope allowed de Forest to present him with “Resurrection,” a painting de Forest had created just for him. De Forest says the Pope’s spirit of “love and tolerance” inspired her to create the work. Upon viewing the painting, Pope Francis blessed de Forest—as well as her canvas.

Fitting, as what’s most remarkable about de Forest isn’t simply her immense talent, but her desire to be a blessing, and to use her gifts and talents to help others.

De Forest has done this already by not only donating much of the estimated $7 million (!) she’s raised from selling her art to relief agencies, but by spending time working with the Turnaround Arts program, which is committed to introducing kids to the art world. Just two months ago, during a visit to New Jersey, de Forest decided to hold a special painting session with children from the Helen L. Diller Vacation Home for Blind Children. De Forest spent a few hours teaching the visually impaired children to paint two-dimensional artwork on canvas. She also donated a painting to the nonprofit’s facility, which was auctioned to raise funds for kids.

At just fourteen, she’s already a young woman whose mark we can all admire.

Perhaps the biggest blessing is that de Forest doesn’t seem to view herself as “arrived” at all. She continues to take her art seriously and says that she understands that she’ll need to work and study hard with dedication and persistence to make the leap from “child prodigy” to grown-up artist. But most of all, she understands the high—even holy—role art has in this world: that it helps us understand beauty and mystery, that it makes us more compassionate and empathetic, and that it can help heal the world’s wounds in very tangible ways.