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George Widener: A Multiply Gifted Savant

By Carolyn Ogburn

“You have sure put the magic square into the Art World.”
—John Hendricks, the world’s most prolific and published magic squares mathematician

George Widener sat outside the library in the drizzly afternoon, where a documentary film crew has just finished a calendar calculation contest between him and a former NASA engineer. While the engineer has access to complex algorithms and a laptop, George has only the information found in his head. As dates spanning thousands of years were read aloud, the engineer scribbled fiercely, tapping his computer with increasing frustration. “Looks like a Thursday,” George answered within seconds, sometimes almost before the host finished speaking. And, every single time, he was right.

George was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1962. He showed clear signs of autism as well as giftedness as a child. However a combination of growing up in a poor, multi-racial Appalachian family and the public lack of understanding of autism (in this case high-functioning autism known as Asperger’s Disorder) in the 1960s allowed him to remain undiagnosed until he was into adulthood. As a result, George spent years living hand to mouth, often working ‘day labor’ jobs and staying in homeless shelters. He also spent his time in libraries reading and making his drawings. George has thousands of specific historical trivia and facts in his memory, often strange and even tragic details which he finds obsessively fascinating.

Today George is a working artist whose drawings have been exhibited in various galleries and museums. He demonstrates a wide range of freehand abilities. In 1998, he began combining calendar dates with magic squares to create what he calls a Magic Time Square. He uses these unprecedented squares as an ‘engine’ of sorts to evaluate specific historical events or to create a calendrical ‘portrait’ of an individual. Fascinating, creative connections are thus made possible. George’s magic squares have been recognized as original by world-class magic square experts such as Walter Trump of Germany, and the great John R. Hendricks of Canada. George has simply learned to convert his natural memory based fascination with calendars, history, dates, statistics, and census numbers into visual art in ways that have not been seen before. For example, he may draw a large city landscape and place ‘lucky’ future dates into it, or perhaps devise a large ‘weekend’ cruise ship.

George is represented by the international Henry Boxer Gallery of London.

George is defined as a type of “Outsider” artist regardless of his innate drawing skills (he holds no degree in Fine Art) due to his dramatic life history and the real life social effects of Asperger’s Disorder. Exhibiting at the Outsider Art Fair, George was noted as a “significant discovery” in one New York Times article. In addition, Outsider Art historian Roger Cardinal wrote in a Summer, 2005 Raw Vision magazine article that George’s works “alert us to the existence of a distinctive mind, as well as to palpable human presence.” George is simply happy to make a new drawing every day and enjoy his numbers.

Learn more about George Widener at his website: www.georgewidener.com.
Update: May 18, 2010

George Widener’s Continued Success

George Widener recently attended an autism charity event in Taipei, Taiwan where he helped raise funds for an autism group there and shared the incredible memory talents that Aspergers people can sometimes display. George has also been very busy with his artwork. His work sold well at the 2010 Armory Art Fair in New York in February, he will be in a group show at the Frankfurt Kunsthalle museum in September, and he will have his first solo exhibition in New York, at age 48, with Ricco Maresca Gallery in November. The prestigious Kroller Muller Museum of the Netherlands, which also has such artists as Van Gogh, Monet and contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer in their collection, recently recognized the excellence of George’s work by collecting several of his drawings for its permanent collection.
Update: January 4, 2009

George Widener’s New Art Exhibits and Honors

George Widener continues to draw attention and critically acclaimed success for his art work and presently he has several new exhibits underway.  His graphic work was recently featured in the Orleans Gallery of London. It will also be on exhibit in a group show entitled “Tension, Invention, Intoxication and Liberty: Victor Hugo to Martin Ramirez” featuring self-taught artists at the prestigious Jan Krugler Gallery in New York January 8 thru February 6, 2009.  George is also a titanic “buff,” and the American Folk Art Museum in presently exhibiting their permanent collection drawings of his on that subject. Also, the Henry Boxer Gallery of London will present a book on George’s accomplishments as a gifted artist at the Outsiders Art Fair in New York City January 9-11, 2009.
Update: December 7, 2007

Good News for George Widener

George Widener was notified by the Contemporary Center American Folk Art Museum in New York City that his “Titanic” art piece has been added to the Permanent Collection of that prestigious art museum.

George was featured in the “Accidental Genius” portion of the My Brilliant Brain series and that program gives a good look at the talents, and life, of George Widener.

Congratulations to George on this important accomplishment.
Update: June 19, 2006

George Widener Artshow Update

George will be part of the prestigious international Art Brut exhibition featured in the Prague City Gallery that will run June 14 – September 10, 2006.
Update: May 26, 2006

Update on George Widener

George is a man living on the Autistic spectrum who has made thousands of drawings but did not share them with others until he was in his thirties. His artwork is today competively represented by Henry Boxer Gallery of London. George’s unique drawings have recently been acquired by the Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland. Plans are also being drawn up for solo shows in Paris and New York over the next few years.

In addition to his artwork, George is a calendar savant who also has lightning fast recall of thousands of historical details, census statistics, and other figures. His recent meeting with megasavant Kim Peek proved to be a fascinating one. An encounter illustrating the differences and similiarities between George’s prodigious, creative ‘Aspergers’ memory and Kim’s monumental sheer recall of all that he has ever read developed as they rapidly exchanged dozens of spontaneous dates and facts. Their reactions and ‘comebacks’ to each other’s responses were amazing. French filmmaker and art collector Bruno Decharme captured it as part of a short film he is creating about George and his artwork that will be released in fall of 2006.

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For more information, please contact:
Darold A. Treffert, MD
St. Agnes Hospital, Fond du Lac
Wisconsin Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin Medical School, Madison
Personal website: www.daroldtreffert.com
E-mail: daroldt@charter.net