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.
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 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 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.
Learn more about Alonzo Clemons at https://www.alonzoclemons.com/
Treffert, D. A. (2011). Extraordinary people: Understanding savant syndrome. Lincoln: iUniverse.
Treffert, D. A. (2010). Islands of genius: The bountiful mind of the autistic, acquired, and sudden savant. London: J. Kingsley.