Thistle in the Dream (To Louis Sullivan)

Copied Theodore Roszak, Thistle in the Dream (To Louis Sullivan), 1955-1956, cut and welded steel, 41 3840 1230 in. (105.2102.976.3 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.74

Artwork Details

Thistle in the Dream (To Louis Sullivan)
Not on view
41 3840 1230 in. (105.2102.976.3 cm.)
Credit Line
Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation
Mediums Description
cut and welded steel
  • Object — flower — thistle
Object Number

Artwork Description

Roszak once wrote that his sculptural forms “are meant to be blunt reminders of primordial strife and struggle, reminiscent of those brute forces that not only produced life, but in turn threatened to destroy it.” The spikey forms of Thistle in the Dream (To Louis Sullivan) combine associations of threat and cautious hope. The sculpture has the look of an avian predator with a spearlike beak and powerful wings, but the menacing shapes protect a vulnerable life form within. For Roszak, who worked in an aircraft factory during World War II, the pairing of aggression and safekeeping represented a conflicting duality that characterized postwar life. The title’s dedication to brilliant but difficult architect Louis Sullivan reflects Roszak’s understanding of the visionary role of the complex, often conflicted individual in modern society.

Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection, 2014
Luce Center Label
Theodore Roszak built planes for the Brewster Aircraft Corporation during the Second World War, where he learned the welding techniques that he later used to create Thistle in the Dream (To Louis Sullivan). The war was shattering to those, like Roszak, who believed in the progressive power of the industrial world. After 1945, his sculptures changed dramatically to spiky, threatening constructions that represent Roszak's disillusionment with the world. He used violent means of welding, hammering, and scoring metal to create these frightening sculptures. Thistle in the Dream is ironically dedicated to Louis Sullivan, the early modern architect from Roszak's hometown of Chicago who embellished his buildings with elegant designs found in nature. The sculptor's frightening mutation of a thistle stands in stark contrast to Sullivan's often gentle adaptations of organic forms.


Media - 1986.6.100 - SAAM-1986.6.100_2 - 135134
Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Sara Roby Foundation Collection
This exhibition presents some of the most treasured paintings and sculpture from SAAM’s permanent collection, including artworks by Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Edward Hopper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, George Tooker, among others.