Fun rerun from April 15, 2016: Ever wonder how that Indian head statue wound up at the roundabout? The answer came when Jan Johnson delivered an envelope full of old photos of its 1987 dedication. Pictured, Peter “Wolf” Toth, the artist (www.dcschumaker.com), is inset, left, and climbing on the statue; the group gathered for the ceremony are inset, right.
The statue, carved from a giant cedar log, was created by Toth as part of the Trail of the Whispering Giants, to honor Native Americans. The Astoria version, Ikala Nawan, or Man Who Fishes, honors the tribes of the North Coast, and is No. 57 in the series. As a little side note, Toth himself is not Native American — he was actually born in Hungary.
Jan’s husband, Ed Johnson, is the key to how the Man Who Fishes came to Astoria. Sometime back in the 1980s, he taught summer classes in Reno, Nevada, where he and his children would often go to the city park. That’s where he met Toth, who was carving statues there. Toth told Ed he was putting Native American statues in all 50 states, so Ed asked if there were any plans for Oregon. Toth said not yet.
When Ed got back home from Reno, he started a letter writing campaign to invite Toth to Astoria to carve a Whispering Giant here, beginning with then-mayor Edith Henningsgaard-Miller. She wrote Toth an invitation letter, and so did the Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce and the school district.
Toth accepted, and stayed at Joe Herman’s (who did the rock work around the base). The sculptor did not get paid for his work, by the way — he considers the Whispering Giants a gift to his adopted country — so usually local governments and citizens cover his expenses and materials. It took several months to hand-carve the 18-foot statue, which has presided over the roundabout ever since.
“It was just a fluke how it all came about,” Ed noted.