We see a lot of folks with the North America map on the side of the RV, and we’ve visited with friends and acquaintances at camping get-togethers enough to know that making collections of travel memorabilia is a common pastime. We ourselves collect national park magnets (only from parks in which we’ve actually camped) to put on the front of the fridge at our stick and bricks house. They remind us both of where we’ve been, and of the fact it’s soon time to get out on the road again.
Better than that, though, we’ve come across a few collectibles that are more intangible in the hand but sharper in the mind. One of the latter recently saw us in Iowa Falls, Iowa at sunrise to capture a few photos of a tall wooden sculpture on the bluffs overlooking the river.
Peter “Wolf” Toth was born in Hungary and emigrated to the United States as a young man. He settled in Akron, Ohio and received an art degree from Akron University. He completed his first Whispering Giants sculpture in 1972, carved into the stone of a cliff overlooking La Jolla, California. Toth studied and admired the Native Americans, both for their devotion to the Earth and for their tenacity. Wishing to honor and bring attention to their mis-treatment, he chose to make them the focus of his lifetime work.
After selecting a location, he secures a native log or standing tree about ten feet in diameter. He next spends time with the Native Americans of the area, learning from them about their history and lore, and looking at historic and contemporary photos and paintings. Sometimes it’s agreed he’ll carve the likeness of a specific historical figure, like Chief Grey Lock, who can be seen in Burlington, Vermont.
More often, Toth visualizes a face that incorporates the lines and features of many individuals. Says he, “I look at the log until I can see the Indian inside it, then I start carving. His work is mostly done with hammer and chisel, and takes two to three months to complete. The town provides him room and board, and he donates the completed sculpture in return.
There are seventy-four sculptures in the series, with at least one in each of the fifty states, and in several Canadian provinces. We’ve had the pleasure of seeing several, and gladly drive out of the way to collect another. Most recently we communed with heads in Paducah, Kentucky and Red Lodge, Montana, as well as the one in Iowa Falls. Toth lives in Florida and creates small sculptures for sale, the proceeds from which support his ongoing work on the Whispering Giants. In addition to creating new pieces, he restores and repairs earlier pieces that need attention.
Pick something that interests or intrigues you – giant balls of twine, ethnic pastries, esoteric breeds of cattle, regional dance styles, accents and dialects, or local folktales. Let it guide your travel, if just a bit. Gather some stories and tell them here. We’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, you just might run across us, Patti & Tom Burkett, somewhere off the beaten path.
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