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Stoical 25-year-old reminder of the honor due first peoples

''Enisketomp'' is Wampanoag for human being, and the name of Peter Wolf Toth's sculpture on Route 3 in Plymouth. ''Enisketomp'' is Wampanoag for human being, and the name of Peter Wolf Toth's sculpture on Route 3 in Plymouth. (JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF)
By Diane Speare Triant
Globe Correspondent / August 24, 2008
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PLYMOUTH - If you travel Route 3 south frequently, you have passed him dozens of times as he stands unlikely vigil in front of the Tourist Information Center shared with McDonald's and Original Pizza of Boston at exit 5 here. The carved wooden Indian, a soaring monolith bisecting the sky, has been impassively inhaling the fumes from nonstop traffic for 25 years. His walnut color has darkened, and his chiseled features have softened some with time and the elements, but his gaze remains direct and enigmatic.

Those curious enough to read the embossed sign affixed to the sculpture's base learn that the Indian's name is "Enisketomp" - the Wampanoag word for "human being" - and that he is "a gift to the people of Massachusetts." Most travelers, though, walk by without a second glance.

In summer 1983, however, when the Information Center occupied a smaller cottage all to itself, a passerby would have stood in wonder at the sight of a determined sculptor perched high on scaffolding, chipping away at a massive oak trunk with hammer and chisel. He was Peter Wolf Toth, conceiver and creator of Enisketomp, as well as 72 carved Indian counterparts throughout the United States and Canada. Collectively, they are known as The Trail of the Whispering Giants.

You might surmise that Toth boasts Native American roots. Rather, he was born on a peach farm outside of Budapest. Why, then, would a native-born Hungarian feel compelled to sculpt Indian statues - free of charge - in every US state, an endeavor that required traveling and chiseling from 1971 to 1988?

"Although I consider America the greatest country on the face of this earth, I always felt the American Indians were victims of injustice," Toth said from his Edgewater, Fla., home. "I wanted to help their cause by using my God-given talents as an artist. Creating a statue in their likeness is my way of bringing awareness to the difficulties they have always faced."

Toth's carvings of the continent's first people differ in their details, some featuring mustaches and beards, others with eagles on their heads, and still others showing off headbands of one to three feathers. Yet they are similar in that each is only the head and displays a serious, brooding expression.

The artist's sensitivity to the Native American plight can be better understood by knowing that as a boy of 8 in Hungary, he watched Soviet tanks roll across the border during the 1956 uprising. He fled with his family to a succession of refugee camps, before settling in Ohio, where he took rudimentary art courses at the University of Akron.

Before commencing on one of his sculptures, Toth receives an OK from local authorities (he was invited to Plymouth, Toth recalls), then consults with the native tribes to ensure a measure of accuracy.

"First off, I went directly to the Wampanoags and talked to them, studied their physical images, and learned their history," Toth says of his Plymouth sculpture. "Then we had a big oak shipped in from the Berkshires, and I started working, one chip at a time, for about three months. My basic tool is a hammer and chisel. I also use a mallet and ax, and sometimes power tools. But I prefer to use the tools that were used 1,000 years ago."

The resulting work, which Toth says is meant to be a composite of all the area's indigenous peoples, portrays a face of resolve and dignity. With chiseled brow, strong nose, and determined mouth, the Indian gazes at the horizon, adorned with a three-feathered headdress and an amulet disk around his neck. If you study him for even a few minutes, the feeling is strong that he is attempting to convey a message.

Perhaps this is the reason Toth has named his collection of sculptures Whispering Giants, and why increasing numbers of tourists, pilgrims, and geocachers have taken to The Trail of the Whispering Giants in an attempt to visit and photograph every one. Toth hopes that those seeing his Plymouth sculpture will be inspired to take in the one in Springfield in Forest Park, and then others throughout New England. (Toth has hopes of carving a third Massachusetts sculpture on the cliffs of Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard.)

With many of his works celebrating silver anniversaries, the sculptor is attempting to test them for rot and to repair them where possible. He hopes to work with the town of Plymouth or the state to test and preserve Enisketomp. In the meantime, he has a message for those Route 3 road pilgrims who might stop by his statue during its 25th anniversary year:

"Please don't miss the real meaning behind the statue: that it was made to honor the first Americans. And, at an even higher level, it is meant to stand against all injustice."

Diane Speare Triant can be reached at dtriant@gmail.com.

If You Go

Whispering Giant

Massachusetts Tourist Information Center

Exit 5 off Route 3 Plymouth

The sculpture of Enisketomp stands on the patio in front of the building, and may be viewed at any time of day or night.

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