March 21, 2013

Thundersky the construction clown artist

Remembering Raymond Thundersky, Roving Artist-Clown of Cincinnati

By Mary Annette PemberSome people thought he was a great Mohawk chief, some thought he had royal blood, some thought he was Jesus and some just thought he was crazy.

Raymond Thundersky’s life was a mystery that provided fodder for the growth of a tantalizingly vague urban legend.

Prior to his death in 2004, Thundersky roamed the streets of Cincinnati wearing a clown costume and hard hat while carrying a toolbox. An enigmatic figure, he frequented construction sites, creating a colorful trickster-like presence among the cranes and cement trucks. He seldom spoke, preferring instead to draw--and draw, and draw.

Obsessed with demolition as well as construction, his childlike drawings always envisioned the future. Taking his markers and paper from his toolbox, he would set up a temporary easel at construction sites. His works were titled with names such as “Future Mohawk Freeway,” or “New Clown Costume Factory.”

To most people in Cincinnati, he was known simply as “Chief,” and occupied a certain celebrity status around which many stories grew. According to some, he was of noble birth and descended from “the last Mohawk chief.” In a city far from Indian country, with no Native community, most people’s concepts of American Indians are stereotypical notions that come from Hollywood. In this environment, romantic rumors about Thundersky's identity and past easily morphed into fact for the citizens of Cincinnati.
Comment:  The article notes that Thundersky wasn't enrolled in the St. Regis Mohawk tribe. He allegedly moved to Cincinnati with some Mohawk families and got a job on a construction site. Mohawks have a history of working on construction projects, and that connection got him started.

From my perspective, the interesting thing about this article is that it shows an Indian in a nontraditional and novel role: a construction clown artist. Once again, Indians aren't just chiefs and braves. They're as varied as any other group of people.

For more on Mohawks and construction, see Mohawk Ironworker Caps Freedom Tower and Mohawk Ironworkers Helped Build WTC.

Below:  "Raymond Thundersky surrounded by clowns in an undated Polaroid photo that was found in one of the artist's toolboxes after his death."

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