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Release: June 10, 2002

UI artist/storyteller Steve Thunder-McGuire will cycle around Iceland

Steve Thunder-McGuire is going to Iceland, and he’s taking it lying down.

For his latest story-telling project, the University of Iowa professor of art education will ride his unique, specially-designed recumbent tricycle around the island nation, and back into thousands of years of the island’s turbulent history.

Thunder-McGuire is an internationally known artist and story teller who has carved out a unique niche for himself through a combination of sculpture, storytelling and bicycle riding. He creates bicycles and tricycles as both art works and vehicles, he rides them around the country -- and now around the world -- and he tells and collects stories wherever he goes.

Iceland is an island country whose limited geography is intimately connected with an extensive tradition of both oral and literary sagas. This combination of a small physical space with a large oral tradition provides an ideal match for Thunder-McGuire’s interests.

For the summer project, he will ride around Iceland, following a circle that literally rings the island, visiting specific locations that are featured in the Icelandic sagas. He will record portions of the sagas, as told by the people who live on the land where they took place, and photograph the people in the communities along the way seated on his tricycle.

Working with Gudmundur Magnusson, former rector of the University of Iceland, Thunder-McGuire has identified people within the local communities along his route who know the local history and the Icelandic sagas. He has also done his own research at the Arni Magnusson Institute in Iceland to identify saga sites along his route. He hopes to meet ordinary Icelanders at the sites that he has identified as particularly significant in the sages -- places where events took place, or where people were born or killed -- and get them to talk about both the place and the events.

As a culmination of the project, he will produce a DVD with images set side-by-side with storytelling, geography and saga. The final product will include still images of hundreds of Icelanders, as well as videos of longer story sessions. One purpose of the DVD is to produce a work that documents being a contemporary traditional storyteller. At the same time, Thunder-McGuire will contribute to the academic study of storytelling, much as he has done through previous compilations of stories and images, and through the courses he has taught at the UI.

Thunder-McGuire left the United States June 10. His ride will start at Reykjavik three days later, and conclude back in Iceland’s capital July 12. He will ride a tandem recumbent tricycle that he designed jointly with Ian Simms of the Australian bicycle manufacturer Greenspeed specifically for this project: the trike was designed to uncouple and fold down for shipping from the United States to Iceland.

An avid bicyclist who has for many years ridden to work from his home in rural Kalona, Iowa, Thunder-McGuire has traveled more than 100,000 kilometers by cycle and completed several memorable long-distance rides. His 1995 completion of the Iditasport bicycle race on the 250-mile Iditarod Trail in Alaska provided the material for one of his most memorable stories.

Since then he has combined storytelling with long-distance riding several times. In 1994 and again in 1997 he rode his bicycle from Fairbanks to Iowa City -- a distance of 3,478 miles -- to raise money for Close Encounter Art Workshop, a two-week summer residency program for high school students with disabilities that is offered at the UI Hospital School.

In 1999 he rode around Iowa, both telling and collecting stories at senior care centers. The project, “1000 miles of Iowa Stories,” was a collaboration of Thunder-McGuire and retired UI Social Work faculty member Tom Walz with Care Initiatives of Iowa. He made a large circle through the center of the country in the fall of 2000, making story-telling appearances at colleges in Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Colorado. And in the summer of 2001 he rode his recumbent tandem tricycle across Iowa for “Stories Quest On The American Discovery Trail: Iowa Route,” collecting stories in towns along the route.

Thunder-McGuire has released a CD of stories, “Completing Stories,” and a DVD of stories he collected in 2001, together with images and accounts of the ride across Iowa, is currently being prepared for distribution to schools and libraries across Iowa.

Thunder-McGuire has been on the faculty of the UI School of Art and Art History since 1990. He has received numerous awards for his teaching, including the 1997 Collegiate Teaching Award from the UI and the 1999 Iowa Higher Education Art Educator of The Year.

More information on Thunder-McGuire is available on the world-wide web at

This project has been partially funded by the UI Arts and Humanities Initiative, UI International Programs, the University of Iceland/ University of Iowa Exchange Fund and supplemental funding from the College of Education and School of Art and Art History.

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