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Chief statue set for repairs

By John Published: July 7, 2010

By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer

The old Indian chief's jutting chin is still solid, but the wood is going soft where the feather meets the head and the base of the famous oak statue on West Market Street needs some cosmetic work.

The statue's creator, Peter Wolf Toth, returned to Akron on Tuesday to see how ''Chief Rotaynah'' has weathered the Ohio winters since he carved it in 1985 in front of Fairlawn (now Resnik) elementary school.

The 62-year-old sculptor climbed a ladder to tap the head near the feathers and walked around the base with a small mallet and chisel, gently chipping pieces under the chin like a dentist probing for cavities.

''Considering that the weather has not been too kind to it, I think it has been holding up quite well,'' Toth said.

He has carved similar heads honoring native peoples in every state of the union over almost four decades, a series he calls the Trail of the Whispering Giants that includes work in Canada and Europe.

''I try to intertwine the spirit of the Indian with the spirit of the tree,'' Toth said. ''That's how I come up with the statues.''

Toth lives in Edgewater, Fla., where he keeps a studio and sells smaller statues ranging in price form $37 to $37,000. The typical
price is $200 to $600.

But he doesn't charge for the public statues, such as the one in Akron. The 74th statue, the latest in the series, stands in Indiana.

His 73rd statue, completed in June 2008, is in Hungary on the Danube River between Budapest and the Austrian border. It is of Saint Stephen, the first king of Hungary, and honors the Magyar people, his people.

''My European statue honors a much-maligned people, the Magyars,'' Toth said. ''I am a member of the Eastern Cherokees, an adopted member. It's not like I'm trying to pretend I'm an Indian. My tribe is actually called the Magyars.''

When communists took his family's land and property in Hungary, the Toths immigrated to the Akron area when he was 9. They lived here through his teen years.

In the early 1970s, Toth set out on his life's work, to ''chronicle the epic struggle of all men against tyranny, injustice and humanity.''

He carved his first statue out of stone from a California cliff facing the Pacific Ocean in 1971.

The following year, he returned to Akron.

''The first one out of wood was here in Akron in Sand Run Park,'' Toth said.

Vandals sawed that statue in half less than five years later.

He came back in 1985 to carve Chief Rotaynah, honoring all Native Americans of Ohio and the 51st statue in the series.

He has returned over the years to patch decayed parts of the statute with foam, fiberglass, polyurethane and coats of preservative.

The base will need more of that kind of cosmetic work. Toth also wants the feathers reinforced with a steel plate that would connect them to steel rods already running up the chief's back.

''Imagine a big feather like that coming down. I don't want somebody getting hurt,'' Toth said.

Akron schools have helped preserve the statue over the years and will be responsible for the current repairs.

Tom Kekela, facility services supervisor, held the ladder for Toth as he tapped around the statue.

''Due to the snow and ice, you get a lot of decay,'' Kekela said. ''It gets in there and freezes and spreads things. We're just trying to continue to preserve it.''

Toth said the cracks are to be expected, given Akron's climate.

''Imagine you standing out in the rain 20-some years,'' Toth said. ''You'd start cracking, too.''


John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or jhiggins@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.

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