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 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 he was six, his drawings were beginning to find a home on a line of greeting and holiday cards that his family helped develop in partnership with and in support of the Waisman Center at UW–Madison.
These first cards featured black-and-white drawings of a Christmas tree ornament and a candy cane. Miller took them to craft fairs and local retailers in Sawyer County. Next year, Giizhik (whose name means “White Cedar” in Ojibwe) 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.
Now the cards offer designs for all occasions, and Giizhik is using a broad range of media, including computers, to create his art. In the first seven years he has been working on his greeting cards, Giizhik has helped raise more than $10,000 for autism research at the Waisman Center.
The Waisman Center is dedicated to advancing knowledge about human development, developmental disabilities, and neurodegenerative diseases, and is one of the country’s leading research institutions for autism.
Miller has worked alongside the Waisman Center to help educate families about autism. When her son was first diagnosed, she was afraid of what the future might bring 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.”
This story originally appeared as part of the UW Foundation’s Project 72 website.
To Order Giizhik’s Cards for Autism
Support autism research at the Waisman Center, UW-Madison