The Totem Pole

by Dave on October 15, 2009

by Paige Lauren Deiner

In the summer of 2002, Peter “Wolf” Toff drove into the seaside resort of Bethany Beach in his Winnebago. He arrived at the City Hall wearing cut-off jeans, a beer t-shirt and a deep golden tan, remembers Bethany City Council Woman Margaret Young.

Young did not envision the Hungarian-born Toth, a sculptor who had carved more than 60 statutes of American Indians throughout the United States and Canada, to be so laid back. 

But laid back and easy going has been a way of life for Toth since 1972, when he completed his first scuplture of a American Indian, carved  from the cliff of Wind and Sea Beach in La Jolla, Calif. While completing his second sculpture, in Sand Run Park in Akron, Ohio, he made a life-changing decision.

“I will make a sculpture of an Indian, to honor them, in each of the fifty states,” he reportedly decided according to www.dcschumaker.com, a site that chronicle’s the artist’s work.

Toth identified with the American Indians and sought to honor them through his works. The son of an artist, Toth spent much of his early childhood living in fear in Hungary. A 1956 uprising, allowed him, his parents and 10 siblings, to escape the country. The family spent years in refugee camps before finally immigrating Akron, Ohio.

Once he made the decision to carve the sculptures, which he calls “Whispering Giants,” Toth set off in his “whisper” mobile and landed in Bethany in 1976.  Toth first approached Rehoboth Beach about building a statue there, but the city declined his offer.  Bethany readily accepted, said Young.

The statue stood for more than a decade and became a focal point for the town center.

“It lasted a decent amount of time, then the termites got it,” said Young.

The city lived without a totem pole for a few years. Then in 1994, the city council commissioned Dennis Beach to build a new one.

“One Christmas the city put a Santa Claus hat on the statue,” Young said. “The Indians raised cane.  They didn’t think it was cute or funny.”

Within a few years, termites destroyed that statue from the inside out.

In 2002, the city commissioned Toth to build a replacement statue. The statue cost the city $36,647.  Toth received $15,000. The wood cost $14.757 and installing and securing the sculpture cost $6,890.

Toth carved the statue out of Pacific Northeast Redwood, which naturally repels termites. The city expects the three to last between 50 and 150 years, Young said.

This is Toth’s dream, as well.

“With proper care my statues should be around for a long time,” he told www.dschumaker.com. “Years… maybe decades after I’m gone.”

This article first appeared in Coastal Sussex Weekly, July 23, 2009.

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