Peter Wolf Toth Biography
Wolf Toth realized his life's mission at the age of 24. In February
1972 he completed his first monumental sculpture, a stone Indian
head, carved from the cliff at Wind and Sea Beach in La Jolla, California.
By the summer he had switched from stone to wood. After finishing
his second monumental sculpture, this time carved from a dead elm
stump in Sand Run Park in Akron, Ohio, he made a dramatic decision:
I will make a sculpture of an Indian, to honor them, in each of
the fifty states.
One of eleven children, Toth (rhymes with "oath") was
born into poor circumstances in the newly formed Republic of Hungary
in December 1947. His early years were marked by injustice and violence.
During the 1956 uprising, the Hungarian borders were open, briefly
(before the Soviet tanks rolled in), and the Toth family took the
opportunity to flee. After two years of being shuttled from refugee
camp to refugee camp, Toth and his family eventually immigrated
to the United States, and settled in Akron, Ohio.
As Toth grew up in his new country, he developed a deep interest
in native North American culture and history. He saw in their story
a parallel to the violent repression he had experienced in Hungary.
But he didn't really become passionate about this empathy until
his epiphany in Sand Run Park.
Although he studied art briefly at the University of Akron, and
learned a lot from watching his father (also an artist), Toth considers
himself to be self-taught. Prior to carving his stone Indian head
in La Jolla, he had never done anything even remotely similar.
Traveling the United States in his "Ghost Ship" (a modified
Dodge maxi-van), he spent summers in the north and winters in the
south, stopping wherever local officials would allow or invite him
to carve one of his "Whispering Giants." He accepted no
money for his labors—he considered the monumental sculptures
to be a gift to his adopted country—but subsisted on whatever
he could earn from odd jobs and the sale of small carved objects.
Sometimes city governments, parks departments, chambers of commerce,
and private individuals would assist by covering his living expenses
or by providing needed materials and services.
By the time he rolled into Rhode Island in June 1982, he had a
wife, Kathy, the Ghost Ship had been replaced by a Winnebago, and
he had an additional source of income—a self-penned book,
published in 1980, entitled Indian Giver, that chronicled his mission
and adventures on the road. He had appeared on NBC's Real People
four times and several times in Ripley's Believe It or Not! He also
had 41 silent sentinels under his belt.
Toth completed his goal of a statue in each of the fifty states
in May 1988 with a statue (#58) of a Polynesian in Haleiwa, Hawaii.
(Some states have more than one of his sculptures, and Canada has
two). In recent years Toth has divided his time between carving
new or replacement statues, repairing existing ones, and making
smaller pieces of art in his Florida studio. You can look up some
of his other Whispering Giants in the Smithsonian's Art Inventories
Catalog, if you're interested.
Toth's sculptures have even become something of a hobby for some
people. In the pastime of GeoCaching, a global positioning satellite
device is used to help locate objects, places, and "caches"
(hidden containers filled with objects to trade), around the world.
Many of the Whispering Giants have been pinpointed by GeoCachers
and are awaiting your visit.
What's next for Peter Wolf Toth? When we spoke to him in February
2005 he was looking forward to the production, in collaboration
with writer Carolyn Berry, of a coffee table book about his Whispering
Giants. He also was hoping to sculpt a statue of King Laszlo (an
eleventh-century warrior who defended Hungary against "heathen"
invaders), to be placed in his native country, on the banks of the
Danube. Statues in China and Japan are also a possibility.
"With proper care my statues should be around for a long time,"
he told us. "Years... maybe decades after I'm gone." They're
an impressive legacy.
Article credit: Quahog.org