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Local Artist With Autism Gains Recognition For Models Of Philly Landmarks

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - He's a local artist who is now gaining national attention, and he has grabbed the spotlight by showcasing the City of Philadelphia in a big way. Eyewitness News caught up with Kambel Smith as he was putting the finishing touches on his latest project.

"When people see it, it's like wow," Kambel's father, Lonnie Smith, says. "I love to see him work."

His father isn't alone. Neighbors often stop to watch Kambel work on the front lawn of his Germantown home. But, recently, it was his portrayal of famous Philly landmarks that really commanded attention.

"When you see it in person it's like crazy," Lonnie says.

"My favorite one would be the Philadelphia Museum of Art," Kambel adds.

And the Museum of Art isn't Kambel's only massive masterpiece. The Ben Franklin Bridge and City Hall are part of his collection, too.

They are all made from humble material like cardboard and tape, and they are all created by sight alone. Not one measurement is ever taken.

"It gave him a sense of inner peace, and he needed that," Lonnie says.

Kambel was diagnosed with autism as a child.

"He was different," Lonnie remembers. "He was violent. He was crying out for help."

The breakthrough for father and son came in the form of a crumpled piece of paper. It was a sketch Kambel made of a character he called Survivor.

"He saw himself as this hero that people didn't understand," Lonnie says.

Together, they wrote their first graphic novel - a superhero saga where autism gives the heroes their power.

"It was saying you're the hero, you're not the problem," Lonnie says. "The people who don't see you as you are, they're the problem."

Since then, Kambel has expressed himself through art, first through painting, but oil on canvas became too expensive. So, the self-taught artist turned to building architectural pieces by using cardboard found in the trash.

"It was amazing after that," Lonnie remembers. "He just kept going and going, and he just wouldn't stop."

Just last month, Kambel showed his Philly-inspired work at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City and was featured in The New York Times.

"Find that gift," Lonnie adds. "You ask Kambel would he change anything about himself? No. He's proud of who he is, and that was the goal."

Kambel and his father have now published four books featuring their superheroes with autism, and his brother, who is also diagnosed with autism, is coding a video game to go along with the books.

The family has also set up a GoFundMe page with the purpose of acquiring a studio. After all, Kambel's art takes up about half of their home.

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