Boulder savant creates inspiring sculptures with national following

Alonzo Clemons is one of few "prodigious savants"
Posted at 6:00 PM, Sep 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-26 00:51:21-04

BOULDER -- A genius with a disability: That is the fictional character at the center of a new ABC series called "The Good Doctors." But the condition he has -- savant syndrome -- is very real.


Alonzo Clemons is a Boulder sculptor who is considered to be one of less than 100 "prodigious savants" in the entire world, and researchers believe exception minds like this could hold the key to unlocking dormant potential within us all.

"No one taught him to do this. It just started pouring forth from him," said Nancy Mason, Clemons' assistant for 22 years.

Clemons doesn't sculpt just because he wants to sculpt. He sculpts because he has to sculpt.

"When they took away his clay, he would sculpt anything he could get his hands on," said Mason.

When he was a small child, three or four years old, Clemons was in an accident, a fall that caused a severe injury to his brain.

"It was a family tragedy, and yet, at the same time something incredible came out of it," said Mason, who said the injury left him unable to read write or drive, but it created a new ability.

He started to create. If he didn't have clay, he used butter -- or even tar from the cracks of sidewalks. He could see an image for just a moment and instantly re-create it in a three-dimensional form.

"His clay was not just a favorite activity, it was an integral part of his person hood," said Mason."He sees the image, and he can kind of like freeze frame it in his mind."

Dr. Darole Treffert has been studying savant syndrome for 50 years and written several books on the condition.

"Alonzo's measured IQ is 40, but his savant ability is what I call prodigious," said Treffert.

He said injuries to the higher circuitry of the brain can effectively re-wire it and activate other parts.

"What you see in the savant is lower brain circuitry coupled with massive memory," said Treffert.

"A prodigious savant is a person who if they had no disability, we would call them a genius. And Alonzo fits into that category."

Most of Treffert's research is now focusing on whether the rest of us can tap into that savant ability, and he believes, to a certain extent, we can.

"It is a vital part of understanding both the brain and human potential," who said technology, medicine, meditation and other methods may help people use unused parts of their brain, and the research is just getting started.

Inside The Art of Life Gallery in Denver, the owner, Ken Knudson, has been selling Clemons work for years. His exceptional talent and fame have generated a national collector base.

"I think it should awaken all of us to the fact that everyone has a skill set," said Knudson. "Sometimes, we just have to look a little deeper into that person to see what their particular skill set is."

These days, Clemons is also dabbling in pastels; he is a champion power lifter and he has a job at the YMCA.

But he is still driven to sculpt, and he believes the reason lies outside of his remarkable mind.

"Because God gave gift from Heaven," said Clemons, looking upwards with a joyful smile.