Friday, October 27th, 2006

Peter Wolf Toth

Las Cruces has one of Peter Wolf Toth’s Whispering Giants, as noted .

Since yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the , this is a good time to review his book on his sculptures and life, .

Indian Giver was published in 1980. It begins with his childhood in Hungary. He was born in 1947, the seventh child in a family that eventually numbered 11 kids.

Conditions under the communists were brutally harsh, and got even worse when what little property his father had was taken and given to a party member. They were left with a dirt-floored house in which the only furniture was a table and 13 chairs.

When the people of Hungary revolted against the Russians, it appeared at first they had succeeded. The Russians even agreed to negotiate — but it was a ruse. They returned with a huge force, mercilessly crushing all opposition. Mass arrests and executions followed.

Two of Toth’s brothers escaped to the West, and Toth’s parents decided they would follow. For a short period of time the Yugoslavian border was open because the United States was paying Yugoslavia a bounty for every Hungarian that was permitted to leave Hungary.

After a dangerous escape and two years in refugee camps in Europe, Toth and his family came to the United States as sponsored immigrants.

Following his account of his life, Toth describes how he carved his first sculpture in a rock cliff, motivated by a compelling image he saw in the stone. That was 1972.

After carving a second sculpture in wood, he decided he would carve one for each state in the country, taking nothing for his work.

The difficulties and rewards of the first 27 “Whispering Giants” are described, and pictured. These sculptures are not “works” created in a studio — they are his life, requiring months of travel searching for the appropriate tree and location, and months of carving.

In releasing the image he sees in each unique piece of wood, he satisfies something deep in himself. But he also makes it clear the work itself is a physical pleasure — the outdoors, the textures, the fragrances — even scrubbing pitch out of his hair.

This is a wonderful, exuberant book. It is no longer in print, so see if you can find a used copy.

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