By Rebecca Goodman
Enquirer staff writer
WESTWOOD - Those who spotted Raymond Hiawatha Thunder-Sky around Cincinnati wearing a hard hat and ruffled collar and carrying a toolbox probably didn't suspect he was a descendant of a Mohawk chief and a Hungarian nobleman.
Mentally challenged, Mr. Thunder-Sky was an artist and a visionary of sorts. Fascinated by demolition sites, he created brightly colored, childlike pictures of wreckers tearing down structures such as the Kahn meatpacking plant. In his neatly printed captions, he envisioned a future use for the site such as a "Mohawk Freeway" or a "New Clown Costume Factory."
Mr. Thunder-Sky, 54, died Friday at his Westwood home after a long illness. He had been undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
He loved clowns and owned several clown suits. He sometimes donned one of them before going out in search of inspiration for his art. More often, though, his work uniform consisted of a ruffled Elizabethan collar, bibbed overalls and a white Cinergy hard hat. He carried his tools - paper and colored markers - in a large toolbox. Many recall spotting him walking along downtown sidewalks, waiting at a bus stop or watching the goings-on at a construction site.
Born in California in 1950, Mr. Thunder-Sky was the older son of Richard Brightfire Thunder-Sky, the last full-blooded chief of the Mohawk tribe. The elder Thunder-Sky was born on St. Regis Reservation on the New York-Canada border. He was an artist and an actor who appeared in nine Hollywood cowboy-and-Indian movies.
Mr. Thunder-Sky's mother was the former Irene Dianna Szalatzky, daughter of a Hungarian nobleman of the Habsburg Dynasty. She met the Mohawk chief at an American Legion party in New York City, where her father had moved after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Married for 43 years before Richard Thunder-Sky died in 1989, the couple brought their two sons to Cincinnati in 1961 and lived for many years in Northside. Their father told the Enquirer that Mr. Thunder-Sky and his brother, Michael Big-Tree Thunder-Sky, had learning disabilities.
Mr. Thunder-Sky was never diagnosed, but some who knew him believe he was autistic. He began dressing in clown costumes around the time his father had a stroke in 1980. He depended on his parents until their deaths - his father died in 1989 and his mother in 1994. He lived on his own until moving into a resident home two years ago.
A few years ago MRDD caseworker Bill Ross became aware of Mr. Thunder-Sky's art.
"He was truly a rare person," Ross said. "Anybody that had the opportunity to meet him knew right away they were in the presence of someone who was very unique and unusual."
Ross arranged an exhibit of 12 of his drawings - four of which sold for $100 apiece. That led to the opening of a permanent studio called Visionaries and Voices that showcases art by clients of the Hamilton and Butler county MRDD. Since his first show in 2001, Mr. Thunder-Sky's works have been exhibited in San Francisco, New York and Washington.
"Raymond lived the life he wanted," said Keith Butler, board member at Visionaries and Voices. "Thank God we have all that beautiful evidence of his having been here. In his drawings, Raymond documented the destruction of urban blight, replacing it with his vision of heaven on earth. He was always drawing his next destination."
Survivors include his brother.
A graveside service is 11 a.m. Thursday at Arlington Memorial Gardens, 2145 Compton Road, Springfield Township.
Election 2004 section
Enquirer's 2004 election guide
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Blackwell statement on challengers
Registered, but not voting?
What to watch for, hour by hour
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GALLERY: Monday's political photos
In Ohio, it's fight to the finish
Election essentials: Ohio
In Kentucky, a last burst of energy
Election essentials: Kentucky
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Raymond Thunder-Sky was an artist
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