Motorists who drive down Route 5 between Central Avenue and Brig-ham Road in the city of Dunkirk may notice something is missing.
The iconic Native American Whispering Giant statue that sits adjacent to the city's water treatment plant has disappeared. The city of Dunkirk removed the statue in late 2013 due to it being extremely water- logged and it was placed in storage.
The statue is one of a kind, created by Peter Wolf Toth in the 1970s. There is one of his statues in every state in the United States. While the statue is drying out in storage, the city decided it would need to be repaired before it could be placed again on Route 5.
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
Due to damage from weather and the natural elements, the Whispering Giant Statue has been damaged. Under the nose is what the original statue looked like.
Gina Kron, owner of the local Tim Hortons, got involved in the restoration process when Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce attended a meeting of the Dunkirk Chamber of Commerce. Kron, who serves on the chamber board, was informed the statue could not be replaced until it was restored or repaired. Kron has an emotional connection to the statue since she remembers it being carved by Toth on Park Avenue.
"I grew up on Washington Avenue as a kid and he carved this in the summer of 1973. All the neighborhood kids would ride their bikes over and watch him. We would sit there and watch him carve ... he was just really fascinating to watch. Anybody who actually saw the process really has a strong emotional attachment to the statue itself. I didn't want it to fall by the wayside," Kron said.
Due to her connection and memories, Kron reached out to Toth in Florida to see if he could help. Toth agreed to travel to Dunkirk to restore and repair the statue. If it cannot be repaired, he is willing to create an entirely new statue. In order to create a new statue, however, a tree of "substantial girth" would have to be donated.
"I've been extremely excited that he is coming. He doesn't do very many of these restorations anymore," Kron said.
To cover the cost of Toth's travel expenses, the city will need about $3,000. Kron would like to raise additional funds to have the statue enclosed and lighted to protect it from weather. To help raise money, Kron plans to have a doughnut sold at the three local Tim Hortons that will be designated for the statue.
"I would challenge other businesses to come up with some other way to raise the money. This is not just a Dunkirk project; this is our New York state statue. There is only one in the whole state of New York and we have it. People put this on their bucket list ...," Kron said.
Toth has plans to come during the first week of July and a meet and greet reception will be held and will be open to the public. Once here, Kron hopes Toth will be able to work in a highly visible area so the public can watch him work, similar to when the statue was first carved.
"The way I feel emotionally attached to this (statue) is because I saw (Toth carve) it. I feel like the more people who see him working on this will have the same type of attachment. They're going to make sure the statue stays viable for years to come," Kron said.
"(Toth) is not going to come back. This really might be the only chance that people in our area have to meet him. He won't be back through here," she continued.
Also helping with the restoration has been the Citizens Advisory Committee of Dunkirk, which Kron said was "really great." According to Chair Donna Keith, the organization has been discussing the statue for several years and was concerned about the condition of the statue.
"We were concerned about the bad shape (of the statue)," Keith said. "Everybody's excited about it. Every meeting, that is what we talk about - the Indian statue."
If Toth were to create a new statue, the CAC has discussed potential ideas of putting the original statue in the city hall so residents could still appreciate it. In order to create a new statue, a tree - already slated for removal - would have to be donated. According to Kron, the ideal types of large and long-lasting trees include elm, white pine, burrow or white oak. Kron also hopes the Seneca Nation of Indians will be involved and a tree from the reservation could be used.
"We're very excited. The public has definitely wanted this for some time. We know the statue is in need of some attention, to put it lightly," Dolce said.
A fund at city hall has been established for the statue. According to Keith, an anonymous donor will match all funds raised. Donations for the statue can be sent or dropped off at Dunkirk City Hall, Attn: Mayor's Office, 342 Central Ave., Dunkirk, NY 14048. For more information, "Like" Dunkirk's Whispering Giant, Wooden Indian Sculpture on Facebook or contact Kron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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