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 Stephen Wiltshire

Published: October 27, 2009

In a helicopter above the city on Friday, Stephen Wiltshire of London looked down at the streets and sprawl of New York. He flew for 20 minutes. Since then, working only from the memory of that sight, he has been sketching and drawing a mighty panorama of the city, rendering the city’s 305 square miles along an arc of paper that is 19 feet long. He is working publicly in a gallery at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

“I always memorize by helicopter,” he said on Tuesday, pausing from detailing the corners of a street on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge.

Mr. Wiltshire sees and draws. It is how he connects. Until age 5, he had never uttered a word. One day, his kindergarten class at a school for autistic children in London went on a field trip.

When they came back, he spoke.

“He said, ‘Paper,’ ” his sister, Annette Wiltshire, said. “The teacher asked him to say it again. He said it. Then they asked him to say something else, and he said, ‘Pen.’ ”

With pen and paper in hand, he drew what he had seen that day. In time, a clever teacher taught him the alphabet by associating each letter with a place he had drawn — “a” for Albert Hall, “b” for Buckingham Palace, and so on.

What did he use for “z”?

Mr. Wiltshire looked puzzled.

“Z — that’s the same as zed,” his sister interjected, pronouncing the letter the British way.

“Zed,” Mr. Wiltshire said. “That was the zoo.”

Now 35, he has already drawn eight major cities after flyovers. He has his own Web site and gallery. A Web cam, at www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk/New_York_Panorama.aspx, shows his progress as he works in Brooklyn. By unpacking in exquisite detail the riches that he absorbs in a glimpse, Mr. Wiltshire has built a bridge to the world that had once been cut off to him.

AUTISM is a spectrum of conditions that typically includes impaired social abilities and intense, systematic interests — a trait that often emerges as skills in math, drawing and music. Ms. Wiltshire, who is two years older than her brother, said that he started making elaborate drawings when he was about 3.

The family was more concerned in those days with finding a school where he could learn to read and write. Later, they wanted him to master the London subways, to cope with diversions or delays that might interrupt his fixed routines. After the school entered his artwork in competitions, his talents began to get attention: he was featured in a BBC program, “Fragments of Genius.” “The Early Show” on CBS brought him to New York for his current project.

Read in Full:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/28/nyregion/28about.html?_r=1

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