Dressed in a hot pink T-shirt with braided pig tails and a hard hat, 11-year-old art prodigy Autumn de Forest climbed onto a crane set up on Morey's Piers' Adventure Pier and was hoisted into the air beside a colossal 8-by-30-foot replica of her commemorative Hurricane Sandy relief painting.

De Forest then took a wet paintbrush to the giant work of art, which had been unveiled before a crowd of onlookers just minutes prior, and signed "Autumn" in white paint across the bottom.

This was Autumn de Forest's second visit to New Jersey. Her first visit was last summer when she hosted a solo art show at Ocean Galleries in Stone Harbor. She is hosting her second solo exhibition at Ocean Galleries, which will run through July 14 and includes about 50 original pieces, all created specifically for this exhibition, with a seashore theme.

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Autumn said when she heard about Hurricane Sandy's affect on her new friends in New Jersey, she knew she had to help.

"Last year's show was just so much fun. I met so many friends," said Autumn, who lives in Las Vegas with her parents. "Then afterwards when I left, I heard about this terrible, terrible hurricane, and I just felt so scared and worried for my friends. I wanted to do this piece for the victims of Sandy. I just really want to help the people who are distressed, who have lost so much."

The Hurricane Sandy tribute painting will be auctioned off to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy. The painting, which is the focal piece of her current exhibition, depicts two women, one from the New Jersey flag and the other from New York flag, holding hands. In the words of the 11-year-old artist, the women represent the two states uniting to rebuild the lives that were destroyed by the storm.

"I think if we can unite, no storm can stop us," she said.

That last line, "No storm can stop us," is also painted in big bold letters across the lower portion of the artwork.

Gov. Chris Christie, who was invited to the artwork unveiling but was unable to attend sent a personal letter to Autumn thanking her for her contribution to the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, which was read aloud during the event.

It read in part, "As a talented and passionate young artist, you have used your beautiful work to help raise valuable support for charitable causes such as relief efforts in Haiti and Japan. I am very pleased that you have chosen to support our rebuilding efforts. Following the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, I witnessed some of the greatest acts of kindness and generosity from people in New Jersey and across the country. This painting is an extraordinary example of that heartfelt response."

Julie Hayles, a publicist for Ocean Galleries in Stone Harbor, said Autumn was very in tune with what happened in regards to the storm and she kept saying she wanted to do something to help.

"As passionate (as she is as) an artist, she is equally as compassionate," Hayles said.

The unveiling of Autumn's Hurricane Sandy tribute painting also highlighted Morey's Piers' new artBox attraction, a collection 11 repurposed shipping containers on Adventure Pier that have been transformed into a colony of art galleries, gift shops and quaint eateries. Visitors can step into giant shipping containers, many of which have murals painted on the facades, and experience the local arts up close.

"You're sort of like the cherry on top helping us celebrate this thing," said Jack Morey, a second-generation co-owner of the Morey's Piers and Beachfront Waterparks. Autumn and the Morey brothers later rode the Great White roller coaster together.

"The 11-year-old artist may be old enough to create amazing artwork or speak eloquently in front of a large crowd, but she is still a kid at heart," Hayles said.

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If you go

What: 'Prodigy Returns: A New Collection of Artwork by Autumn de Forest,' an art exhibition to include over 50 recently painted artwork pieces created specifically for the Ocean Galleries event, including numerous seashore-themed paintings.

When: Now through through July 14. Gallery hours for the exhibition are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Where: Ocean Galleries. 9618 Third Ave., Stone Harbor. Call 609-368-7777 or visit oceangalleries.com

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