Thudersky inc / Vital Art Spirit /

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In case you didn’t know it, Thundersky inc is an Art Gallery named after Raymond Thudersky the visionary artist  who  walked the streets of Cincinnati on a regular basis producing a series of over 2,000 drawings of demolition and construction sites across the city.

Raymond a Native American passed away in 2004  but his memory lives on through a thriving  the gallery.  Intrigued…? We were, and so we got in touch with gallery founder Bill Ross to ask him a few questions about how the gallery came about and the highs and lows of taking on such a venture. There was a lot of ground to cover, so this is the first of a two part interview.

D.S. Hi Bill …Thundersky inc will be celebrating its 10th year, could you say a little about this and your involvement then and now ?

Bill Ross Yes, Oct 2019 will mark Thunder-Sky, Inc’s 10th anniversary as an art space. It is hard to believe we have been at this for 10 years! So much has happened and yet it
seems like yesterday, we were scrambling to make the space ready to open with
some much-needed refurbishing. We set the date to mark the 5th anniversary of
Raymond Thunder-Sky’s passing to open the gallery & studio. The first show
featuring prints of Raymond’s drawings focused on Northside, the neighbourhood
where the gallery is located and where Raymond called home. In fact, the gallery is
just a few doors down from where he used to live. That first show was called
“Raymond Nation: Raymond Thunder-Sky’s Northside.” Besides the Raymond prints
there were a number of tribute pieces by local artists including David Mack, Brian
Joiner and Antonio Adams. Sales and donations from this first show paid for a
headstone for Raymond.

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D.S. That’s quite an achievement to create such a space from scratch, has your
involvement changed much over the last 10 years
Bill. My involvement then and now has pretty much remained the same over the years. I
am the day to day guy and Keith does the PR and helps with curating as well as
handles sales and makes sure the bills are paid. We strive to maintain the space for
artists from all backgrounds and walks of life, from self-taught to credentialed artists.
Thunder-Sky is an unpretentious space focused on unconventional art and artists
from near and far. Our shows are all over the map from silly to serious, but we
always try to pay homage to Raymond’s “vital art spirit” with the shows we do. This
formula has worked well for us so far.

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A lot of things must have happened between then and now, with plenty of highs and
lows. There was an article printed a few years back in HEIGHT1000 which is a pretty
comprehensive and interesting interview, which amongst other things highlights the
difficulties entanglements and rewards of being so closely involved with Thundersky
Inc What was published in 2013, did not tell the whole story. But I personally found the format helpful and quite therapeutic. Bruce Burris, an artist we have known for several years created HEIGHT 1000 after moving to Portland Oregon. He ran a studio for artists with disabilities in Lexington Kentucky for 12 + years prior to his move out west. He started off with a few basic questions and requested I add questions to fit the info I wanted to share.
After it was published, I found myself returning to it from time to time over the following
years, as a way to understand and clarify for myself, what it was that happened and why. I wanted to truly understand that I wasn’t, for one, not completely crazy and two, how to
continue to move forward with a better understanding of what we try to do. I usually act on creative impulses without question. This interview allowed me to be a little more self reflective.

D.S.
Ive read the full version of that interview, it covers a lot of ground which speaks volumes
about the amount of work that’s been put into keeping Thundersky inc a vibrant supportive
and creative environment. As this is the first of a 2-part interview I would like to conclude for the time being with our own edited version of that interview with Bruce Burris and follow up in the near future  with closer look at the phenomenal visual archive  of Raymond Thudersky.

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Raymond Thundersky

Height 1000 Link Interview
These Interviews highlight the achievements of those creating innovative supports – a focus is upon how these supports were initially sparked.
H. Can you describe how Thunder-Sky, Inc. works?
For the most part Keith Banner and I make it work. We have a working board and a close
group of friends who support our efforts. But primarily, Keith deals with big picture stuff and I am more the day to day guy.
H. Explain what Thunder-Sky, Inc. does?
First and foremost, we archive the works and belongings of Raymond Thunder-Sky. You
can now see over 2200 drawings he left behind on our website. The address is:
www.raymondthundersky.org
We curate at least 6 shows a year at Thunder-Sky, Inc. We also put together shows in
other galleries and venues that will have us. We use Raymond’s life and art as a metric for all our shows. We offer free art making sessions on Saturday afternoons in the basement studio space we call “Under-Sky, Inc.” Artists involved are considered artists in residence.

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H. Why did you start Thunder-Sky, Inc. /what was it in response to? (Story about being a
social worker and meeting Thunder-Sky- leading to Visionaries & Voices (V&V)…leading to
Thunder-Sky, Inc. etc.
Bill. I met Raymond Thunder-Sky in 1999. I was assigned to work with him as a new hire by the agency I still work as a case manager. During the course of doing my job, I discovered through newspaper clippings in his file was the son of a Mohawk Chief/movie actor, but he also dressed in clown suites topped with a hard hat and toured the city, doing amazing drawings of demolition and construction sites. He had been doing so for about 25-30 years. Keith and I put together a show of his work in May 2000. It was the first time his work was framed and featured anywhere publicly. This was a life changer for him and for us. We continued to curate shows featuring his work along with other artists we started to champion including Antonio Adams under the umbrella we called “The Art Thing Project.” Antonio Adams still refers to himself as “Art Thing.” In 2001 a show titled “ART THING” opened at Base gallery with people lined down the sidewalk to get in. This show featured 4 artists. A year later we put together a show called “WHEN SILENCE BECOMES SINGING.” This show featured 40 artists. Between 2001 and 2003 the “Art Thing Project” was showing work throughout the region, including Columbus, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Chicago and even LosAngeles. Some of the initial artists were picked up through “America OH Yes!” out ofWashington DC. I became the go to guy for all things art and artists in my position as a county case manager. My case load was quickly populated with some of the most talented artists in Cincinnati. The growing number of talented artists coming our way made us realize a space was needed.
So in 2003, following Antonio Adams vision realized in a drawing of a city specifically
designed for art, artists and art lovers, we opened Visionaries & Voices in a warehouse of art studios called Essex Studios. I came up with the name Visionaries & Voices in a late night email exchange with a friend whom was helping us try to get our act together. She was not a fan of calling it “The Art Thing Studio,” which at the time was the plan. I simply
responded, “I want to create a place where artists can find their vision and find their voice as artists. How about Visionaries & Voices?” It stuck.
In 2004, however, Raymond Thunder-Sky, the artist whom had fixed our trajectory, passed away after his second battle with cancer. His death doubled our passion and drive to ensure a solid future for V&V. We put together exhibits all over town with a more determined sense of purpose. Frequently the shows focused collaborations with artists not associated with V&V. This helped to weave the artists we championed into the fabric of a larger art community. The first was “WE COME IN PEACE,” followed by “SAME DIFFERENCE,” followed by “THE HOOK UP” and “VISIONARY LIVING.” All of these shows were held at the Art Works Gallery when there space was on Race St. These became annual fundraisers forV&V that are now simply called “DOUBLE VISION.”
In 2006 we helped V&V attain the ability to bill Medicaid for service. This allowed V&V to
continue to grow in multiple ways, including helping artists get paid as visiting artists giving demonstrations in schools and attain paying jobs in the art world. We hosted the first of two annual street art festivals downtown on Court St. called “Visionnati”. V&V’s first accessible van purchased through grant money was featured at the festival. In an effort to take inclusiveness seriously, V&V ended up becoming a service provider for people with disabilities exclusively.

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Billing Medicaid for service allowed V&V to grow exponentially. We took over a second
studio space at Essex to provide additional space for the growing number of artists who
attended. In March 2007 a second studio opened in the far north reaches of Cincinnati in
the Frame USA Warehouse. And in 2008, the main studio we established at Essex Studios
moved to Northside. The Northside location offered a lot more space at lower rent and the heat and air actually worked.
FB_IMG_1541529154262 (1)Thunder-Sky, Inc. opened in Oct 2009. We felt we owed it to Raymond to create ThunderSky, Inc. In his gentle way of being, he changed our lives so profoundly. Raymond’s life and legacy meant too much to us to simply go away quietly. With the lessons learned, both good and bad, we put together Thunder-Sky, Inc. and took a new course. As the hokey saying goes, “When one door closes, another door opens.”
H. Thunder-Sky, Inc. seems to us (Height) to be fundamentally different from most
institutions that provide supports to those with disabilities…what in your opinion accounts for this?
Bill First of all, the word institution, when applied to people with disabilities, has a terrible and sad connotation. Far different from when it is attached to the arts. The statement, “Any revolution that is successful becomes an institution” also comes to mind.
Keith and I have unique perspectives, being we are artists working in systems where
services are provided. The whole V&V experience has made us feel more like “culture
workers”, than social workers. What connects artists involved with Thunder-Sky, Inc. is not disability. It is the impulse to create art like Raymond. I also know art saved my life as kid growing up in a violent household in the middle of nowhere.
We still feel an impulse to create in a way that is inclusive. Through what we do now, we are able to respond to this impulse without getting buried under a bureaucracy. The focus is on unconventional art and unconventional artists like Raymond Thunder-Sky. We want to pay homage to what Antonio Adams calls Raymond’s “vital art spirit”. This opens the door to any and all artists, trained or self-taught, creating powerful work because they have to, not as a career move or an assignment. By keeping it small we can better see what it is we do. I also feel doing what we do confuses people. When it comes to disability, this is a good thing. When it comes to art, it is even better.

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Raymond Thundersky

H. Are there accomplishments you would like to mention?
Bill. I am proud the shows we do at Thunder-Sky,Inc. are strong, thoughtful, fun, fresh and weird. I am honoured and excited by the amount of attention we are receiving both locally and internationally. I am surprised and proud that through Thunder-Sky, Inc., we managed to provide Antonio Adams with an opportunity to have a sculpture of Terri Schivo as a cat and four large scale drawings he completed using printed unfinished works by Raymond Thunder-Sky, accepted in the “Museum of Everything” in London, England in 2011. This past year a large-scale show featuring 54 drawings by Raymond Thunder-Sky, along with many of his artefacts, were on display at the Gaia Museum of Outsider Art in Randers Denmark. The shows we do keep me perpetually looking forward to the future.  It is proof what does not kill you does in fact make you stronger.

 D.S. Many thanks to Bill Ross who provided us with the original transcript. We look forward to the next feature on the work of Raymond Thundersky’s  drawings . 

For further information on Thundersky inc  see details below

contact

4573 Hamilton Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45223
Hours: Saturday/Sunday 1 to 4 pm, or by appointment.

(513) 426-0477 | info@raymondthundersky.org

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