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Bill Brent and Autistry -- A Story with Heart

Students and staff of Autistry Studios pose with the thank-you painting they received from artist William Brent.
Students and staff of Autistry Studios pose with the thank-you painting they received from artist William Brent.
SAN RAFAEL — When local screenwriter and animation director Ken Pontac wanted a special get-well gift for a friend this summer, he knew just where to go: Autistry Studios, a Marin-based nonprofit serving teens and adults on the autism spectrum. Pontac has been a fan of Autistry since meeting and collaborating with some of its students over the past year.

Autistry's headquarters, a 10,000 sq. ft. space in an industrial-zoned area of San Rafael, houses an amazing array of power tools—and creative spark. Their therapeutic model uses creative projects to teach communication skills, scoping and planning, and other pre-vocational skills.

“William Brent, an artist friend of Ken Pontac’s, had heart surgery a couple months ago,” explains Janet Lawson, Executive Director and CEO of Autistry Studios. “Ken asked us to send uplifting, humorous, artistic messages to lighten Bill’s spirit.”

So Autistry student John Gallagher, 19, drew a futuristic mechanical heart, and student Alex Phillips, 24, sent a sketch of the Tin Man (from The Wizard of Oz) with a sweet, humorous message. Staff members took their sketches and created a wooden heart on the ShopBot, a computer-controlled router.

“Bill loved the messages. He took a photo of himself with the wooden heart and sent it to us,” Lawson says. “He was so moved by our messages that he painted a picture for us.”

The painting arrived this week, to the delight of Autistry students and staff. “It’s a great example of collaboration between Autistry and a local artist,” Lawson says.

The painting depicts Brent as the Tin Man, opening his chest to display the heart that Autistry created for him. He is standing in front of the Waldo Tunnel on north Highway 101. Under his signature, an inscription reads, “To the wizards of Autistry—Thanks for this beautiful heartwork.”

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