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Master Pieces for Autism Speaks

The Nashville celebrity and arts community has joined together to support Autism Speaks, Tennessee Communities, by designing original artwork made from puzzle pieces that will be auctioned at the first annual Master Pieces for Autism Speaks benefit on December 1, 2012 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Nashville City Center in downtown Nashville. 

Art by Music Star Amy Grant


This post is by Jennifer Wachtel Kates, mother to three sons, the oldest of whom (Harper) has autism. She is planning this event and here she shares her thoughts on family, autism, and art.



Autism is a family affair. Those of us in the community know this well. When a child is diagnosed, the whole family is drawn into that world, for better or for worse. In our case, we are extraordinarily lucky to have a compassionate and supportive extended family, many of them right here in Middle Tennessee with us, who have been on “team Harper” since the very beginning. So, when I began planning Master Pieces for Autism Speaks, I was not surprised that my cousin, very talented local artist Anderson Williams, was happy to create a work of art for our auction.

What blew me away, though, was how his finished work, “The Whole (As it Is)” and his explanation of it taught me something new. I learned about the relationship between what artists do and what we all as human beings do. And in this piece, his art shows me a little more about how kids like my son fit in with the world we are all creating. Anderson describes it best himself: 

"Acrylics, oil paints, and water resist each other. They are different. They don’t belong together. And yet, when mixed they can create a visual language, an organic process, and nuanced effects that cannot be manifest in their isolation. Together, they create beauty. We just have to let them do what they do, accept the flaking and blistering and resistance as the whole, and appreciate it as it is.

When I paint, I think a lot about how the materials work and how I work the materials. These are two distinct parts of the painting experience as well as my experience of life. The latter is about managing and controlling the material. The former is about creating spaces and opportunities for the materials to become what they will. It’s about relinquishing control and traditional expectations in the name of exploration and learning. It’s about knowing a little, and watching a lot.

Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. The question is, how do I continue as the artist to learn about the materials so that I can create environments and opportunities for the materials to leverage their attributes and to achieve their unique possibilities?

For me, as someone who has family and friends with autistic children, I can only look from the outside at the challenges and opportunities related to raising a child with autism. But, this painting process for me is a metaphor for how I see and understand the world in which I want to raise my own child, an inclusive world where risk may feel heightened, but reward can be something we have never conceived, a world we cannot manage into existence but must explore and be vigilant when its unique beauty presents itself."

So now, as I look at each of the Master Pieces we are auctioning off on Saturday – the mixed media romp of Jason Facio, the sweet and pensive collage of Maureen O’Brien, the breathtaking iconic stenciled image of Paul Harmon, the hilarious graffiti of Kevin Nealon, or heartfelt lyrics of Amy Grant – I think about how art is more than a reflection of life. It also teaches us about life. It teaches us that we are creating the world in which we raise our kids, and it teaches us to pay attention to the beauty and wonder our kids present us with daily. Our kids, our lives, our world … they are all Master Pieces as well.

By Anderson Williams

Additional Celebrity artists include Charlie Daniels, Allison Krauss, Amy Grant, Chris Young, former Saturday Night Live cast member Kevin Nealon, Channel 2 anchor Bob Mueller, CMT Top Twenty Countdown host Evan Farmer, and Financial Peace guru Dave Ramsey. Local visual artists include Nashville pop surrealist Mr. Hooper, Internationally exhibited artist Paul Harmon, Tim Shawl, Arden von Haeger, Hans Schmitt Matzen (recently featured at Zeitgeist Gallery), and many more. Local artist Grace Goad, who has autism, will participate as will the Autism Speaks Youth Ambassador, Katie Chance, a teen vocalist on the autism spectrum. Tyler Bell, a young man with autism and son of Autism Speaks’ own Peter Bell, executive vice president of programs and services, will also design and donate his Master Piece.

For more information about the Master Pieces for Autism Speaks visit their facebook page here  

Bidding is also available online this for selected pieces here

The event is free, however, RSVP is required.  For more information or to RSVP please contact Kathy Streng at or call 615-238-1625. 


The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.