A Strong Woman Returns, After 20 Years

“I wanted to make a piece that was a strong woman, a woman who could handle whatever she was facing.”

Star Liana York

So began the creation and development of Distant Thunder by renowned sculptor Star Liana York. Various influences came together for Star in the making of this piece and various obstacles had to be overcome to keep this piece available to the public. Join us as we recount the story.

In 1997, Star began sculpting a small piece, 30” high, without knowing exactly what it would look like upon completion. She knew she wanted it to be of a strong woman, one filled with determination, ready to protect what was precious to her. Like an experienced author, letting a character evolve and fulfill its potential as a plot develops, Star opened herself to the influences of family, friends, books, and history, staying receptive to the voice of the strong woman who was emerging from the clay. 

“I keep myself open to influences that can remain buried until I let myself discover them through art … I find that I sculpt my way into clarity, the clarity of how I feel about something … that only happens when I let the process happen.”

Star Liana York

Distant Thunder was first released in a 30” size as a limited edition of 35, which promptly sold out. Star later sculpted a monumental version, 74” high, allowing her to flush out the character of this woman, adding details (see Star’s description below) that she couldn’t on the smaller piece. This larger edition was to be an edition of 15 as well. However, only 5 pieces were cast before the mold suffered damage and could no longer be used. 

Thanks to the advancement of technology, we’re excited to announce that Star will soon begin recasting this monumental piece, enabling her to complete production of the original monumental limited edition of 15. Partnering with Form 3D, a foundry in Portland, OR, that specializes in 3D scanning and printing, Star recently coordinated the scanning of one of the earlier casts of Distant Thunder. The owners of this piece graciously gave permission for this complex process to take place on their private property. As a stable environment is needed for accuracy, the piece was tented to control lighting and wind. Over three days, the tent was erected, the piece was prepped, scanning equipment was put in place, and then several thousand 3D images are captured with a specially designed camera. Finally, the piece was cleaned and the tent and equipment were removed. The images will be used to produce a solid 3D model. Star will then oversee the final steps of the process to ensure that surface details, patina, and more are accurate and true to the original piece. 

For Star, whose sculptures become real to her, there is a definite sense of renewal in this process, as this stunning piece is once again made available to collectors and art lovers … over 20 years later. Be sure to mark your calendars for Star’s upcoming One-Woman show opening on August 6th at Sorrel Sky Gallery Santa Fe. A recently cast edition of Distant Thunder will be on display as well as several new works that are inspired by Star’s firm belief in “the importance of beauty and spiritual connections in our lives.”

“Distant Thunder has long been one of my favorite pieces by Star. The fact that it will be available again, both as a monumental and a new edition of a smaller version is so exciting. I know I’ll be adding one to my own collection.”

— Shanan Campbell, owner of Sorrel Sky Gallery

Star Liana York Describes Distant Thunder

In the desert, as in the mountains, the weather can be violently unpredictable. Storms can explode out of a serene blue sky in a matter of moments. For this reason, native people, who spent most of their time out of doors, were acutely attuned to the warning signs. Drawing on these facts of nature, I imagined a dramatic vignette of turn-of-the-century Apache life. A young mother out gathering berries with her child has heard the drums of distant thunder. Pursued by a lashing wind and bolts of lightning, she hurries toward shelter. 

As with all of my pieces, the historical details are important to me and I spend a lot of time doing research. The “burden basket” the woman carries over her shoulder is specific to Western tribes and is given to young girls at their puberty ceremonies. Her jewelry is all based on what was made and worn at the time, from the silver dollar medallion and glass trade bead necklace, to the wood amulet carved by a medicine man out of lightning-struck wood that is believed to be an entrail of the Wind God. 

For me, the detail doesn’t just exist for detail’s sake. It’s integrated into the sculpture in ways that subtly support the original concept. The way the woman is dressed is an example. Rather than putting her in traditional clothes, I have her wearing the kind of long and loose cotton dress Western Apache women adopted after contact with Europeans. This allows me to bring more movement to the piece, accenting the woman’s flight and the swirling wind, which in turn adds drama and urgency to the action. When you look closely at the child in her arms you can see that it appears to have recognized its mother’s alarm, and it too senses the danger that’s chasing them. I’ve suggested this not only by the wild-eyed expression registered on its face but also by the fact that it has imitated its mother’s decisive action, clutching its rescued doll in its hand. 

In this piece, I’ve focused my interest on sculpting Native women and placing them in contexts that allow them to demonstrate strength and character. Though concern is etched in this young Apache mother’s brow, she acts swiftly and competently to stay ahead of trouble. We all face moments in life when we need to act swiftly and competently. This piece celebrates all of those moments and all of the women, and the men, who’ve faced them and will continue to face them.