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Prodigy Autumn de Forest is latest artist in de Forest family

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Published Nov. 8, 2012


If Autumn de Forest doesn't steal your heart, her imaginative paintings, inspired by 20th century artists, pop icons, Barbie dolls and crayons, surely will.

So far, they've fetched as much as $25,000 apiece. Her father, Douglas de Forest, estimates she has grossed close to $1 million so far.

Not bad for a homeschooled 11-year-old.

You can meet the pigtailed prodigy from Las Vegas from 6 to 9 p.m. tonight at Syd Entel Galleries, 247 Main St. in Safety Harbor. Or plan to attend Saturday, when a second Meet the Artist event will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Also on Saturday, a special event for children ages 2 to 12 will be from 11 a.m. until noon.

Admission is free and the artwork, ranging in price from $16,500 to less than $2,000, is for sale.

The exhibition, which contains about 70 pieces of original paintings and mixed media works, ends at 3 p.m. Saturday.

"Refreshing and beautiful," is how gallery owner Susan Benjamin describes Autumn's work. "It's so exciting to see the talent of such a young artist."

Autumn is articulate, poised and a genuine cutie pie. That comes in handy when you are being interviewed by Matt Lauer on Today or profiled as a child genius by Inside Edition, the Discovery Channel and numerous other television outlets and publications.

What is her favorite painting?

"The next one I do," she said, "because it will be a new concept, a new idea, a new everything."

Her father said she was 5 when he handed her a paint brush and piece of plywood and she created her first work of art, called The Equator. She painted a purple line across a blue background.

"It was simple, but I felt, profound," he said. "It looked like a Rothko."

Although neither of Autumn's parents are artists, there are several celebrated and collected artists on her father's side: Roy de Forest (1930-2007), Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) and George de Forest Brush (1855-1941).

Her father, a musician and composer, said he and his wife, Katherine, an actor, sought to nurture Autumn's interest in art and wondered what would happen if they provided her with access to a multitude of art books and museum-quality materials like large canvases, professional brushes, acrylic and oil paints — all the tools of the trade.

So they did just that.

Within a year, Autumn had amassed a small collection of art, enough to do some local art-in-the-park type shows. She began to sell paintings for more than $1,000 each.

At her first auction, she sold more than $100,000 of artwork. At 9, she signed a worldwide licensing agreement.

She has lectured at schools and corporate events throughout the country, sharing her positive messages about the importance of art, self-expression and creativity. This year, she was featured at the National Art Education Association's annual convention in New York City.

Autumn's a philanthropist too. Working out of her own 1,000-square-foot studio in her back yard, she has created works to benefit a variety of charitable and humanitarian causes, including relief efforts in Japan and Haiti.

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Skeptics may wonder if Autumn really creates these works all by herself. To ease the speculation, her father creates video recordings of her at work.

"The only thing he does is he puts the layer of varnish on when I'm finished because it's toxic," she said. "But I do the artwork."

The stop at Syd Entel Galleries is among her first solo exhibitions and Autumn has created a new painting, Dripping Oranges, for this event. It features miniature oranges hanging from drips of paint with an orange grove as a backdrop.

Autumn will be sharing her insights and answering questions tonight and Saturday. She says she'll advise kids to pursue and be passionate about whatever it is that makes them happy.

"Whether it's football, dancing, soccer or painting," she said, "I tell them to focus on what they love no matter how good they are at it.

"I'm just a girl who pursued her love of painting."