FORT THUNDER
the pigs came in and blew the house down
by Jeff Wiesner
photographs by Adam Wallacavage

Erin Rosenthal wears a mask

If all good things must come to an end, then Fort Thunder is one of them. To many of us, it was a world unto itself, unrestricted, an idyllic haven for artists and musicians to do whatever they wanted.

“Part funhouse, part theater” is how co-founder Matt Brinkman describes it. Fort Thunder was a group of artists who took refuge in a large Providence, Rhode Island mill building. The 19th century building was predominantly used to house a flea market and other low-rent uses. Fort Thunder and the other residents of the building were recently evicted to make way for a $31-million building project to bring a Shaw’s Supermarket and other “family-style” stores to the area.

Brian Chippendale in the screenprinting area

Founded in september 1995 by four RISD students, they simply wanted “a place to build large things, make noise and have shows” says Brinkman. There was a section devoted to screenprinting, studios for drawing and working on projects, a central space for bands to perform and for the occasional wrestling match, and a room in the back with couches and magazine racks filled with zines and handmade books.

The last time I stopped by, there were 10 people (and 6 cats) living there. They all split the rent equally, regardless of the size of their rooms, which could be changed depending on who moved in. The first thing you would notice upon entering was all the “junk” everywhere. Fort Thunder residents had a hard time throwing anything away and often reused stuff or simply stapled it to the wall. The entry room was filled with bikes and bike parts that are frankensteined into working vehicles. The bathroom would get a new addition everyday. Even used tubes of toothpaste were adhered to the wall.

the bike pile

Fort Thunder inspired many of us, whether it was the unique way they combined work space and living space, their low-budget, communal approach to living, or simply the amazing artwork - illustrations, comics, screenprints, posters and sculptures - that were created by the artists there.

Individually, many of them are continuing to be recognized for their work, including an upcoming appearance in the Whitney Biennial. As a united group, it’s quite possible that they will continue to exist only in our fond memories.