Artist's message born out of adversity

WINSTED — A Laurel City man who goes by the name Connecticut Red Thunder has a message for those who may be going through hard and difficult times: Don’t ever give up.

The Winsted artist should know. After battling a difficult childhood and an adult life peppered with alcoholism, homelessness and time in jail, the proud Native American has found himself on the road to redemption, sobriety and, with luck, a bright artistic future.

“I am putting my heart and my time into doing something right for once,� he said.

But it has not been an easy path back. Red Thunder, who legally is known as William Malchiodi, said it was only a few years ago — when his abuse of alcohol lead him to rock bottom and a Connecticut jail cell — that he finally decided to take those first few steps toward turning his life around for the better.

In 2000, homeless and drink-ing heavily, Red Thunder was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The arrest put him in Carl Robinson Correctional Institute in Enfield for the next three years.

“I almost had a nervous breakdown,� he said.

Lost, he turned inward, exploring his Native American heritage.

“Years ago my mother told me I’m a Mohawk, although I never thought anything of it at the time,� he said.

But that changed soon after he arrived at Carl Robinson. During most of his time there, Red Thunder was an active member of the jail’s Native American circle, a discussion and support group for inmates.

Through his participation in the circle, Red Thunder found a renewed sense of self and purpose. “It saved my life and turned me all around,� he said.

Around the same time he was connecting with his Native American roots, Red Thunder was also learning to express himself through art.

Although he had loved to draw and paint as a youth, his family never supported him in a professional artistic career, he said. So, the Barkhamsted native never pursued the idea of becoming an artist, focusing instead on working with his hands in manufacturing.

“I worked all my life — even when I was homeless,� he said.

While he rediscovered his passion for the pen, paint and paper during his time in jail, Red Thunder said he has taken the largest strides in the time since his release.

Most recently, Red Thunder has focused on decorating jackets and coats, as well as other articles of clothing, with his hand-painted artwork. Although some of the projects have been custom designed for friends and family members, many of them are simply inspired by his own vision for each garment and his Native American heritage.

“I will see something in my mind, and then I will sketch it out and paint exactly the way I see it,� Red Thunder said. “But then a lot of people will see them and say, ‘Hey, would you do that for me?’�

Several of the completed pieces hang along the hallway of his Main Street apartment. Red Thunder hopes that one day some of them may also find themselves hanging on the walls of a local art gallery.

“It’s been a hard road with hills most of the time for me, and I don’t know how the hell I survived, I’ll tell you,� he said. “But I have a feeling a lot more good things are coming my way.�

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