In 1956, an autistic student named Gregory Blackstock enrolled in Devereux School at the age of 10 years old. One of his teachers, Dege Donati, remembers meeting Blackstock in her class, which was held in a metal bicycle-repair shed. The two fell out of touch as the years went by, but Donati did not forget her former student, who went on to become a world-renowned artist and accordionist. Last week, Donati and Blackstock reunited in person for the first time in 50 years, when the rare savant came to revisit what is now the Devereux Center and share his artwork on Thursday, October 22.
Blackstock began drawing in his mid-40s, when he started creating categorical collections. With uncanny precision and impeccable spacing, Blackstock has drawn roughly 175 visual lists of everything from kinds of stringed instruments to garden-pest-control beetles, shoes, bells, and saws, all recalled entirely from memory. When asked how he picks his categories, he said simply, “There’s so many!”
In their methodical accuracy and sweet spirit, Blackstock’s works are an expression of a uniquely brilliant mind that sees the world with unusual creative clarity. What’s more, Blackstock’s work and success is a testament to the capabilities and gifts of individuals with developmental or mental disorders, a historically underrepresented and underfunded segment of the population.
The art world has taken note, with gallery shows around the world, including a permanent collection in the prestigious Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. A famed impressionist and musician as well, Blackstock has entertained hundreds in his present home of Seattle, playing Sousa marches on his accordion outside baseball games and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 4 outside symphony shows, sometimes both in the course of a night.
Blackstock fondly remembered the sensory details of his Devereux days. “I loved watching freight trains and airplanes from a distance. I loved watching the pilots fire up the engines,” he said, imitating the rumble and whir of revving planes. Donati said it was “just awesome” to be reunited with her old friend, who she said is “the most amazing person.”
Following his presentation, the two went around Isla Vista, which back in the 1950s was just an open field. The area may be different now, but Blackstock will always belong. As a Devereux Center member told him, “You’re one of us.”