July 13, 2019

Thunder Mountain Monument @ Hyperallergic

IMLAY, Nev. — The sign hanging from the fence outside the ostensibly unstaffed Thunder Mountain Monument, which sits along a lonely stretch of I-80 in northern Nevada, says, “ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.” Whether the main risk is stepping on a piece of broken glass or detritus from the salvage materials used to build the monument or having your soul claimed by any one of a dozen works of truly unsettling statuary, is unclear. As outsider art goes, you can’t get much further outside than this creation, built by Frank Van Zant over many years, starting in 1969.

Van Zant (1921-1989) was a World War II veteran and self-identified Creek Indian. Upon moving to Imlay, he experienced a vision that inspired him to take the moniker of Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder and begin building the monument. The footprint of Thunder Mountain includes a massive, ornate central structure, combining wattle and daub construction techniques, bottle walls, and other historical building methods. It is notable that there is no extant geological formation named Thunder Mountain, so the complex itself would seem to be the “mountain,” and Van Zant both its creator and caretaker.

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