The sculpture, made of chestnut oak in the image of a Cherokee chief, is one of 74 such sculptures artist Peter Wolf Toth has crafted over the years. In his 50-plus years of creating his “Trail of the Whispering Giants,” he’s left at least one sculpture in each state, and several in other countries, during his work as a humanitarian artist.
“The purpose of my work is to honor the (Native American) people, to honor all people facing injustice,” he said.
Toth is an artist in many senses of the word. He was born in Hungary, then immigrated to the United States and studied art at the University of Akron in Ohio. First, he was a painter. Then, he etched his first sculpture into a cliffside in California in 1972.
He returned to his home in Ohio in search of another cliff to place his second statue. While he didn’t find any cliffs, he came across a dead elm tree, and from then incorporated wood carving into his repertoire as a sculptor. For his Native American pieces, he strives to use wood native to the area in which he creates each piece.
“I study the indigenous people of that state, that province, or even that country or island, and once I have a good visual image of who they are . . . that’s how I come up with these statues,” Toth said. “I even try to intertwine the spirit of the tree and the spirit of the (native).”
Toth returned to Johnson City last week to restore Junaluska – time and water damage has caused the piece to crack and deteriorate, so Toth’s mission in the next few weeks is to rid the sculpture of decay and give Junaluska a bit of a facelift.
Johnson City park services assisted with erecting the handrails and scaffolding necessary for Toth to complete his work, which will include removing a portion of Junaluska’s back of decayed wood, insert an I-beam and steel plates for support and treat the wood with a preservative, which he said he hopes adds decades to the statue’s life.
Toth will be working on the sculpture through Nov. 1. He has plans to continue his work abroad, with tentative plans to install a similar piece along the Amazon River in the future.
Toth’s studio and museum is located near Daytona, Fla. His creations can be found in virtually every state, as well as about a dozen other countries.
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