Art prodigy’s signature only sign of youth

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Look into the corners of Autumn de Forest’s paintings, and you’ll see the only sign of her youth.

A prodigy in the art world, de Forest signs each of her pieces with a tiny heart above her name. It’s what you’d expect from a 14-year-old, right?

But the telltale heart is the only thing on the canvas that belies her tender years. Beyond that, her work is considered mature and sophisticated, and has grabbed the attention of art enthusiasts across the country as the young painter is carving out a niche all her own.

Her first exhibition in an art museum opens today – at Youngstown’s Butler Institute of American Art, 24 Wick Ave. On Saturday, Autumn gave a demonstration of her creative process by doing a pull painting before some 50 people, using a rigid wire to pull paint across the canvas.

“History is being made right here,” said Wendy Swick, the Butler’s public-relations director, noting that de Forest is the youngest artist ever to show her work at the nationally renowned museum.

Barely into her teens, Autumn already has appeared on television at least 100 times, including on the “The Today Show,” and has sold more than $1 million worth of her works. Not bad at all for a young lady who’s at an age where most of her peers are playing soccer or going to school dances or the mall.

But to her credit, de Forest hasn’t let her heady achievements and notoriety – well – go to her head.

“I do kid things all the time,” she said with a huge smile. “I have a best friend; we go to the mall; I have sleepovers; I’m very active in my church. I try to have [kid time] every week.”

Though Autumn is clearly passionate about her art, she also seems to understand that time is not something that can be saved or captured on canvas.

“It’s important to take advantage of being a kid,” she said. “If I don’t do the things I want to do, it’s time lost. Those are years you can never get back.”

Her response to being asked whether she considers herself a celebrity is as quick and bold as one of her brush strokes.

“Absolutely not,” she said with a laugh. “Not even close. Fame is not my goal. It’s not my priority. My priority is to inspire

and empower, and tell the world my story and the story of these paintings.”

Dressed in a denim jacket, cropped pants and high-topped, red sneakers, Autumn seems refreshingly grounded for one who’s enjoyed so much success at such a young age.

“That’s my job,” said her mom, Katherine, 55. “I make sure she gets plenty of time with her friends, around other kids.”

Katherine recalled the day Autumn came home from preschool with an abstract painting that looked like an elephant. She and her husband, Doug, immediately recognized that there was something special about the picture, so they bought their daughter some art supplies. They never insisted that she paint, but that’s where her talent took her.

“She was very in-touch with color distribution. It was like capturing lightning in a bottle,” she said. “We were very excited about having art for our walls at home. It was never meant to be sold.”

On Saturday, Autumn recalled how she began painting in her “late 5s,” when she joined her father, who was staining wood in the garage of the family’s Las Vegas home.

“I loved doing big gestures and big brush strokes,” Autumn said Saturday. I loved putting my imagination and things that were going on in my head on those canvases,” which, at first, were bigger than she was.

Titled “Autumn de Forest: The Tradition Continues,” the exhibition of Autumn’s work will be displayed at the Butler through June 26.
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