Thunder-Sky, Inc. In Northside Will Close Its Doors At the End of 2020

The eclectic folk-art gallery, named for iconic artist Raymond Thunder-Sky (a.k.a. the Construction Clown), in Northside has started its curtain call.
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Photograph courtesy Keith Banner

Do you recall seeing a guy walking around in a clown costume and a construction hat? If you lived in Cincinnati during the 1970s through the early 2000s, you probably do. Raymond Thunder-Sky walked the Queen City with a toolbox and sketchpad, which he used to draw various demolition and construction sites around the area. Thunder-Sky passed away in 2004, and a gallery bearing his name and commemorating his legacy opened in Northside five years later. Now, after 10 years of operation, Thunder-Sky, Inc., has started its curtain call.

Thunder-Sky, a Native American artist with a developmental disability, is the closest thing to a folk hero you’ll find in Cincinnati. Murals of him are scattered throughout the city, and a statue of him, made by Tom Tsuchiya, the same sculptor who crafts the Cincinnati Reds statues at Great American Ball Park, currently sits near Covington’s Hellmann Creative Center.

Bill Ross met Thunder-Sky in 1999 in his role as a social worker with the Hamilton County Board of Developmental Disabilities. He would often travel to Thunder-Sky’s Northside apartment, where he eventually noticed Thunder-Sky’s artistic talent. Ross partnered with Keith Banner to present Thunder-Sky’s drawings at an art show in 2000, where he drew acclaim. “He had this kind of cult following. A lot of the shows we did were establishing him as an artist in the region,” Banner says. “A lightbulb went off in people’s heads. ‘Oh my god, that’s what he was doing…dressed as a clown?’ It was his identity, which is unique, obviously. We didn’t want to lose that.”

After Thunder-Sky died, Ross and Banner opened Thunder-Sky, Inc., to honor his work and showcase other local artists. “We wanted to establish a place where we could celebrate that uniqueness that wasn’t really anchored in disability, wasn’t really anchored in folk art. It was anchored in Ray, because there’s not really a place he could fit,” Banner says. “That’s what the gallery is, a place for anybody who has that same kind of sense.”

Photograph courtesy Keith Banner

Thunder-Sky, Inc., will close at the end of 2020. The gallery has showcased notable artists from the Cincinnati area and held shows on topics like family, crime, and disability while focusing on community outreach. But Banner says its biggest accomplishment is celebrating “someone who created a space for himself in the world that didn’t really care if he had one or not.”

“In a city with a lot of people in it, we were able to pull one person from anonymity and explain him in a variety of ways that you would never see unless you had a gallery,” he says. “Ray could be seen as somebody who’s not like us, but I think what we found is that his strangeness and uniqueness and weirdness is ours.”


These five exhibitions close out Thunder-Sky, Inc.’s final season.

Eminent Domain
Circuit bender Reed Ghazala, mixed media collagist Jason V Mann, and Miami U. architecture and interior design professor Patrizio Martinelli examine the idea of private property and public imagination. March 14–April 30.

Sign/Symbol: Looking at the World via Highway 127
Robert McFate calls part of his process “urban fishing”: He walks with a magnet on a string, collecting metal and turning it into vivid sculptural assemblages. May 9–July 4.

Backbrain
Gallery cofounder Bill Ross (known for candy-colored paintings featuring pink cupcakes) collaborates with David Roper on a collection of paintings and drawings. July 11–Aug. 31.

Left Brain, Right Brain
Tom Strohmaier, who helped restore the Metrobot outside the CAC, curates paintings, drawings, and photographs from regional artists. All proceeds will go to the Alzheimer’s Association. Sept. 12–Oct. 17.

Violet % Generous
Antonio Adams draws from his 11 years as artist-in-residence at Thunder-Sky, Inc., for the gallery’s final show. Outsider artist Tony Dotson and queen of everything Pam Kravetz are along for the ride. Oct. 30–Dec. 12.

Thunder-Sky, Inc., 4573 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 426-0477

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