The Whispering Giant
The Whispering Giant is part of a series of statues created by Peter Toth. It is statue # 67 and was named "Anishinaabe". In translation it means "Distinct Society". It stands 35 feet high and was completed in 1991. It is one of only two of his creations in Canada.
Peter Wolf Toth Biography
Peter 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.