September 22, 2008

Background on Peter Toth

Some background on sculptor Peter Toth from a 1988 article:

Peter Toth Has Heads-Up Works in Every State, So Canada Is NextPeter "Wolf" Toth is not what he seems. He looks like a bearded, longhaired dinosaur from the psychedelic '60s, but he doesn't believe in drugs and has never used them. And though he often dresses like an Indian, is steeped in Indian lore and favors his Indian name, Wolf was born in Hungary. For the past 16 years, Toth has been a wandering wood-carver, turning out an epic series of works he calls the Trail of the Whispering Giants. Standing 20 feet high or more, his wood sculptures are monumental reminders of the terrible injustices suffered by American Indians. With the dedication of his 58th head in Hawaii this spring, Toth, 40, has now carved at least one statue of a native American in every state during his single-minded odyssey.And:Though his feat is impressive, Toth's work has received little critical attention. "My statues are not necessarily loved by everybody," he concedes. "But I don't recall anybody ever saying, 'I don't like it.' " His subjects definitely admire his work: The Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin gave him the name Wolf out of gratitude.

Toth learned wood carving as a boy while his family was living in Yugoslavia, in exile from their Hungarian homeland after the Soviets crushed the 1956 uprising there. "I watched my father carving toys for the family," says Toth. "He didn't regard himself as an artist, but I was inspired by his work." Later, even before the family immigrated to Akron, Ohio, in 1958, when Toth was 11, he began reading about the trials of the American Indians and was moved by the parallels with his personal history. "The Indians were made refugees in their own country," he says. "Because of my background, I know how they suffered."

At the age of 24, in 1971, Toth quit a hated full-time job in an Akron machine shop and set off to explore U.S. in a battered van. Over the next year the idea of a carved tribute to the Indians germinated. Finally, on a drive up the West Coast from La Jolla to San Francisco, he hit on the notion of a series of carvings. Toth immediately returned to Akron to make the first of his statues, chiseled into a dead elm tree in a local park. When it was dedicated, he knew he had found his calling and vowed to put at least one such memorial in each of the 50 states.

Along the way, Toth and his wife, Kathy, whom he wed in 1977, say they have scraped by on an income of about $10,000 a year, mostly from sales of some smaller wood carvings and Toth's semiautobiographical book, Indian Giver.
And:Toth is by nature a wanderer, and he and Kathy—pregnant with their first child, due in January—have moved on again to North Bay, Ont., where Toth has begun work on a Canadian Trail. He has vague plans for a Mexican version around the year 2000. "I feel the Great Spirit is pushing me to make these sculptures," says Toth, explaining his messianic zeal. "I feel this is my niche in life, my destiny. I feel that in spirit, I am an Indian. I'm 40 now. I have to go on while the old body holds together. There's a good chance I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life." Comment:  Here's a little critical attention for Toth's work. I'd say it deserves as much coverage as the Crazy Horse Memorial, if not more.

Toth's dedication to his project is impressive. So is his wife's dedication to him. <g>

For more on the subject of monuments, see Best Indian Monuments to Topple.

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