Bringing art to historic downtown; autistic savant artist welcomes possibilities with centralized gallery

Globally renowned for his work, local artist Michael Tolleson wants to be more recognized in Kent.

Mike Tolleson’s gallery includes his many works

Globally renowned for his work, local artist Michael Tolleson wants to be more recognized in Kent.

Looking for a storefront gallery and the opportunity to become closer to the community, Tolleson found it in historic downtown Kent.

Tolleson, a self-taught autistic savant artist, moved his Seattle gallery to the Kent Business Center a year ago. But Tolleson wanted something more accessible and centrally located.

With help from the Kent Downtown Partnership and mayor’s office, the artist found it.

The Michael Tolleson Savant Art Center, at 205 First Ave. S., recently opened to the public. City and business leaders joined Tolleson and his partner, Jack Carl Anderson, also an autistic artist, for a launch party Dec. 22.

“We’re trying to bring more art into Kent,” Tolleson said. “We want to bring more interactive art to Kent. We want to revitalize the feeling of the street. … We need art to touch lives.”

Tolleson’s career has blossomed in such a short time, garnering national and worldwide attention from the autistic art community. Several galleries – local and beyond, including Polly’s Place in London – have embraced his emotion-based paintings.

The Kent man’s autistic journey through his work is the subject of book, displaying many of his paintings.

All this from an unpretentious artist self-diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, which, he explains, accounts for his ability to paint proficiently and effectively without formal training.

Tolleson deflects the praise.

“It’s not about me, it’s about what I do through what I have,” he said.

With his career and company established, Tolleson wants to share his gift with others. People are always telling him, he says, that his paintings give hope, inspiration and light to the autistic community, especially to youth.

Tolleson has donated his work to numerous charitable organizations throughout the country. Such work, he hopes, opens more gateways and inspires more children with autism to believe that they can express themselves through art.

To spread their mission and to become more accessible to families and children throughout South King County, Tolleson and Anderson will paint for many causes but also help others explore their talents. The center will provide art lessons and group projects for people of all ages.

“For whoever we are,” Tolleson said, “we recognize that (if) you have a gift, you give a gift.”


To learn more about the center and its programs, call 253-850-5995, visit, or email The Michael Tolleson Savant Art Center can be found on Facebook.

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