News Article Details

Autism doesn't stop Giizhik Klawiter from pouring his soul into magical creations

Sawyer County Record - 12/28/2017

MADISON - Day after day, Pam Miller would watch her son, Giizhik Klawiter, turn a half-inch-thick stack of paper into a beautiful array of drawings.

Diagnosed with autism when he was five years old, Giizhik (whose name means "white cedar" in Ojibwe) learned to draw before he learned to speak. He poured his energy into turning the cartoons that fascinated him into a world of his own artwork.

"He was always interested in cartoons, and drawing them became an outlet to express himself," Miller says.

By the time Giizhik was age 6, his drawings were beginning to find a home on a line of greeting and holiday cards that his family helped to develop in partnership with and in support of the Waisman Center at UW?Madison.

The first cards featured black-and-white drawings of a Christmas-tree ornament and a candy cane. Miller took them to craft fairs and retailers in the family's community in Sawyer County. The next year, Giizhik worked in color, depicting his home at the holidays, complete with his cat and younger brother, Mino, sitting in front of the fireplace.

Buyers began snapping up the cards, which now offer designs for all occasions. Giizhik has also expanded into a broader range of media, including computers, to create his art; and Mino designs some as well. During the first seven years that he has been working on his greeting cards, Giizhik has helped to raise more than $16,000 for autism research at the Waisman Center. The center is dedicated to advancing knowledge about human development, developmental disabilities and neurodegenerative diseases, and it is one of the country's leading research institutions for autism.

Miller has worked alongside the Waisman Center staff to help educate families about autism. When her son was first diagnosed, she was afraid of what the future might hold for him.

"A mother's fears of sending a child out into the world are always real, but it can be even more frightening with a disability. But he's my gift. I wouldn't have it any other way," she says. "His is a different journey, but it's a good journey."

She adds that many friends and family in Sawyer County are responsible for helping to launch Giizhik's art into the world.

"Really, I just want to thank our community," Miller says. "Without them, none of this would happen."

Giizhik's cards may be purchased at http://www.waisman.wisc.edu/docs/GiizhikHolidayCardsforAutism2013.pdfPam and Giizhik will also be at the Waisman Center on Friday, Jan. 19, selling cards from 9 a.m. to noon in the center's lobby at 1500 Highland Avenue in Madison.

Giizhik's story - and those of other people whose connections to UW-Madison have helped them to change the world in small and large ways - are featured in Thank You, 72: a salute to outstanding Badgers and Badger friends from every one of Wisconsin's 72 counties. See all of these stories at allwaysforward.org/wi/.

 
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