Archive for January, 2010

The Skeleton of His Own Heritage

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Raymond Thunder-Sky was one of the last Mohawk Indians living in the Southwest Ohio region. His father, Richard Bright-Fire Thunder-Sky, was a chief of the tribe. Recently I googled around a little and found this info from a website about Native American history:

“The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the George Washington Bridge, the World Trace Center… For more than 120 years, six generations of Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) Indian iron workers, known for their ability to work high steel, helped shape New York City’s skyline. Each week, hundreds of Mohawks commuted to Manhattan from their reservation in Canada, in order to frame the city’s skyscrapers and bridges.”

Raymond’s obsession with construction, demolition, and what is put in place here in town really is a confirmation, it seems, of his own Mohawk legacy: his ancestors built iconic monoliths of steel. Raymond’s art focuses on the interiors of demolished buildings, the wires and tubes and metal beams that hold the world together. Peeling away all the work it took to erect the structures, in his drawings, he seems to try to find the skeleton of his own heritage…

Tool-box Excavation

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Every object you see and touch has value far beyond its real-world purpose; there’s a symbolism in all the knick-knacks and souvenirs and pieces of paper you accumulate.

Raymond must have known this instinctively. He left behind many tool-boxes. He used these tool-boxes both to carry around his art supplies, as well as repositories for all the things he acquired on his daily journeys around the city, in search of demolition sites to draw.

Last night, New Year’s Night, we were at the gallery taking down the Xmas tree. I started going through a couple of the tool-boxes we have on display and got inspired enough to take some photos. Interspersed with markers and pens inside each tool-box were sad, beautiful objects Raymond must have found interesting and inspiring enough to keep, including some of the items in the above photos: A “No-WIMPS” button, a ticket stub to a Shrine Circus performance, a silver Lone Ranger mask, a monkey-wrench, a kazoo…

All of these objects speak about Raymond espeically now that he is gone. Silly, utilitarian, mysterious, weird, whimsical, these trinkets let us in on a part of Raymond’s real life, while also providing peep-holes into his personal creativty, which is just another form of spirituality… What Raymond seemed to worship is the smallest of the small, the things we don’t recognize as important and yet give off a strange glow (at least to those people who can see the glow).

I thought about Joseph Cornell, and how he would spends hours, days, months creating those shadow-boxes of his. He seemed to be so inspired by the objects he loved in the real world that he had to include those objects in a space small enough not to notice, yet large enough to encompass the whole world. He created small, precise versions of realities so powerful to him he needed a documentation of their worth.

In Raymond’s tool-boxes, and in his drawings, I see the same kind of odd and touching need: to carry around small pieces of the world he cherished, to possess those moments he had to leave behind.


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