More than 40 years ago city of Dunkirk residents hosted Peter Wolf Toth as he carved a statue from a tree near Washington Park. Toth is back in the city working to restore the statue and on Thursday, the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce held an official welcoming ceremony for Toth at the Clarion Hotel’s Dockside Cafe.
Toth was greeted by a good-sized crowd, which included residents, government and Chamber officials. Dunkirk Chamber of Commerce President Jay Warren served as master of ceremonies introducing speakers, including Mayor Anthony J. Dolce, County Executive Vince Horrigan, Chautauqua County Chamber Executive Director Todd Tranum, Tim Hortons owner Gina Kron and finally Toth.
“It demonstrates that we have to have partnerships to get things done,” Warren said. “The city, working with local business owners, Tim Hortons and others, with the Chamber, to better the community and make a better future.”
Warren thanked Toth for the statue which has been located along the city’s waterfront, noting it has been a “tremendous source of pride for residents and those passing through our community and those who visit our community.”
Dolce spoke briefly, thanking Toth for coming back to Dunkirk and Kron for all her efforts in making it happen.
“Since Peter has been back I love getting the phone calls from residents and visitors alike,” Dolce said. ” … We can’t say thank you enough. We know you have your work cut out for you.”
Horrigan was next, welcoming Toth and saying when he heard about the restoration he thought it “was incredible.” Horrigan then read a proclamation in honor of Toth’s work. Citing Toth’s passion for creating the sculptures honoring Native Americans, the seventh of which is in Dunkirk, Horrigan declared July 10 as Peter Wolf Toth Day in the county.
Tranum presented Toth an honorary membership in the county’s Chamber of Commerce, “in recognition of generous efforts to restore his iconic Whispering Giant statue in Dunkirk.”
For her part, Kron said she has been talking nonstop about the project since Toth agreed to come to Dunkirk. Growing up on Washington Avenue in the city, Kron said she and her friends would watch Toth work on the project.
Kron thanked the city’s Citizens Advisory Committee for pushing the restoration “to the forefront.” She added that at an early meeting she attended she learned of a plan to create a concrete replica of the statue she saw carved and set about to get the original fixed.
“We didn’t want our statue to disappear. … I took it upon myself, I tracked down Peter and I said what better person to restore the statue than … the person who made it. … Peter has generously donated his time and effort and labor for no charge,” she stated. “All we are paying for Peter are his expenses, his materials, in order to get the statue repaired. … When you find somebody who saw him back in ’73, no matter how old they were, they remember what they were doing. … They are emotionally bonded. They are tied to this statue and this community because of it.
“My goal was not only to get people here to do the restoration but to get the community involved.”
She said people should come to see the statue and Toth work on the restoration, adding that the community has been helpful.
“This isn’t just a Dunkirk project, this isn’t even just a New York project, this is part of a national project, an international project, and it’s one man’s life mission,” she added.
Kron thanked city officials and workers for their aid when she has asked for equipment or help. Kron also thanked Jeff Gambino for the use of a building for storing the statue and the Clarion and former mayor Dick Frey for all their help, citing the use of its facilities as Toth is living in his trailer on the site of the restoration just west of the Route 5 Tim Hortons. Kron also thanked both the Dunkirk and county Chambers, with special thanks to Piede Brothers Tents for the donation of a tent.
Kron added there is an anonymous donor willing to match all funds raised and noted the goal is “to raise enough money to build a partial enclosure to protect it from the elements.”
Toth addressed the gathering last, thanking everyone involved in the effort.
“I want to tell you all I came here for what I thought was a very important reason and cause, and that was to all the American Indians, and I really feel that I’m just a tool to make these statues,” he stated. “Sometimes the accolades are maybe placed in the wrong person because my work has always been to bring honor to people that have faced injustices. Native Americans in all our states, the Eskimos and Aleutians up in Alaska as well and Hawaiians, the Polynesians.”
Toth told the gathering of his plans to repair the statue, perhaps make another one, along with other projects he has in the future, before fielding questions concerning his career.
Donation boxes and raffle tickets will be available at various outlets in the local area, with the raffle prize being an artwork Toth is currently creating.
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