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Alonzo Clemons: A Genius Among Us

Video excerpt from Expedition ins Gehirn (Beautiful Minds: A Voyage Into the Brain)
Shown here with the permission of Colourfield Productions, Dortmund, Germany [approx. 3:55]

By Darold Treffert, MD

Even as a child, Alonzo Clemons demonstrated the uncanny ability to mold clay into amazingly detailed animal figures he had never even seen. It was talent that only a genius could possess. But it was puzzling: Alonzo couldn’t even feed himself or tie his shoes.

Doctors call people like Alonzo, savants. Savants can store information in their memories just as normal individuals do. But unlike most people, they can easily retrieve phenomenal amounts of information in a very narrow range. Savants can be exceptionally skilled in mechanics, mathematics, special relationships, or memorizing dates.

“He was always trying to sculpt things as a child. But I didn’t realize what he was doing. Through it all he was just trying to sculpt.” says Alonzo’s mother, Evelyn Clemons.

Alonzo can see a fleeting image on a television screen of any animal, and in less than 20 minutes sculpt a perfect replica of that animal in three-dimensional accuracy. The wax animal is correct in each and every detail — every fiber and muscle.

“I recognized his talent since he was a crawlin’ baby. But I was afraid he would never be accepted.” Mrs. Clemons says.

But Alonzo, severely disabled as a small child, has been accepted for his artistic talent. His World Premier featured 30 of Alonzo’s bronze sculptures, portraying the progression from a rough and primitive style to smooth and elegant fine art.

“In a relatively short period of time there has been phenomenal growth. It just doesn’t happen that way,” says Pam Driscol, owner of the Driscol Gallery in Aspen Colorado, who in large part is responsible for Alonzo’s debut. Driscol has helped Alonzo manage his career since his Premier.

“It’s exceptional for an artist to make such a name for himself in just three short years after entering the art world. Normally it takes 10 to 12 years,” Driscol says.

Perhaps his greatest work is a sculpture entitled “Three Frolicking Foals.” The life-size sculpture took just three weeks for Alonzo to create.

“God takes, but God gives so much in return,” says Mrs. Clemons of her son who lives in Boulder, Colorado. “It’s been hard, but I’m so happy for him that he’s been accepted for what he is — a great artist. And he’s always happy to show what he can do. This pleases him very much.”

Since his 1986 premiere exhibit. Alonzo continues to sculpt magnificently. His work is on display at the Driscol Galleries in Aspen, Colorado. Attached are some of his recent works.

Alonzo’s moves toward independence are as impressive as his sculpture. Presently he lives in his own apartment in Boulder. He has a part time job in Boulder as well where you will see him always smiling as he carefully and cheerfully does his assigned housekeeping tasks. When not busied with those duties, he works out with weights and other equipment at the facility where he is employed. His mellow mood is continuous, and contagious. He fits into the community warmly as a truly valued member.

Alonzo continues to sculpt animals primarily, each done with the authenticity and grace that so characterize his work. His powerful hands mold the crystalline continuously. He can still complete a piece in 45 minutes to an hour or so. Recently Alonzo has been doing some drawing, and those drawings, like his sculptures, are impressive.

Alonzo is doing exceedingly well. His savant ability has been a conduit toward normalization. His vocabulary has expanded, he is more and more comfortable socially and now lives much more independently. It has been a marvelous transition.

Dolphin Rainbow

Update: March 2011

Savant sculptor and artist launches new website

Alonzo Clemons continues to sculpt as magnificently as ever, creating intricate animal figures with accuracy and speed. Recently he was featured in a Discovery Science program in the Ingenious Minds series. He now has a website, which provides more up to date information on this extraordinary savant.

Update: April 2006

Discovery Channel Canada Savant Video — Featuring Alonzo Clemons

A terrific story on savant syndrome featuring the talents of Alonzo Clemons is now available on the Discovery Channel Canada Website (opens in a new window). The segment is particularly well done as a succinct summary of savant syndrome research and where we are heading.

Updated: August 2004

The “Gifted Hands” of Alonzo Clemons

Alonzo Clemons now has a Website. It is a collabortive effort between Gifted Hands, Inc., VSA Arts of Colorado and artsales.com. Gifted Hands, Inc. is now the official representative, and contact point, for information about Alonzo and his works.

Alonzo continues to live and work in Boulder, Colorado where he his a vital part of that community. He continues his part-time employment at the Y.M.C.A. and has shared his weight-lifting skills in the Special Olympics competition. His incredible sculpting ability continues and flourishes. His hope is to do some more life-size figures like the Three Frolicking Foals that is so lively and spirited. More information about this new dimension to Alonzo’s life, and his increased visibility, can be seen at his Web site.

It was Alonzo’s World Premier in Denver in 1986 that led to the establishment of a information and clearinghouse center for Savant Syndrome, through the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation, and then eventually to the establishment and maintainance of this site.

Feeding Time

Rhino with Baby

Follow the Leader

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