Totem Pole Park in Foyil, Oklahoma: A Tribute to Native America
Ed Galloway was an unusual man. Then again, anyone who spent eleven years constructing a ninety-foot tall totem pole would be considered slightly unusual. Not only did he construct such a massive totem pole, but he also created other equally bizzare sculptures of a more lesser magnitude. An Indian arrowhead juts up out of the ground as if pointing towards the heavens; several stylized birds and smaller totem poles are spread across Totem Pole Park.
Besides the numerous sculptures spread across this nine acre plot of land, there is also a a rather strange eleven-sided building on the property. Better known as the "Fiddle House", it simply proved that Ed played to the tune of a different fiddle. The "Fiddle House" was built to show off his handmade fiddles, along with several smaller pieces that Ed liked to call "Art."
Still, as one gazes out over those nine acres at the intricatly carved sculptures and ponders the dedication it took to create them, one has to stop and ask, Why?
Nathan Ed Galloway:
Nathan Ed Galloway was born near Springfield, Missouri in 1880. Early on, he showed a strong talent and inclination for woodcarving.
When he was a teenager, Ed joined the U.S. Army and fought in the Spanish-American war in 1898. During his time in the Army, he was assigned to duty in the Philippines. While he was there, he encountered many strange and fascinating creatures, such as crocodiles and other reptiles, all of which would inspire his later art.
Ed returned to Springfield after leaving the Army and pursued his woodcarving. His focus was on creating household objects, such as hall trees and smoking stands. These hand-carved items were covered with intricate carvings of animals and other figures, many inspired from what he saw while he was in the Army. In addition to these small household objects, he also fashioned many large-scale items from tree trunks. These large-scale creations were decorated with human and animal figures. Ed had planned to show off his works of art at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition taking place in San Francisco in 1915. Unfortunately, most of his work was destroyed by a fire at his studio before he could display it.
Ed Galloway managed to salvage a few pieces and began making his way west toward California for the exposition. Of course, as fate had a different hand for Ed, he never made it.
Charles Page, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, saw Ed’s work and was greatly impressed by it. Charles had established a home for orphaned children in Sand Springs years before, and when he saw Ed’s work, he knew he found a resource he couldn’t let go. Charles offered Ed a job teaching woodworking to the boys at the Sand Springs home. Ed took the job, and remained in Sand Springs as a teacher for the next twenty-plus years.
In 1936, Ed bought several acres of land near Foyil, Oklahoma, and, with his wife, moved from Sand Springs to create a new chapter in their lives. It took Ed one year to build a stone residence on the property. The stone house was impressive, but the artist in Ed could not be tamed. For the next several years, he constructed a collection of large Native American inspired structures. It is also here that Ed constructed the “Fiddle House,” an eleven-sided building created expressly to house the growing collection of fiddles, which he was carving during this time. It housed the over three hundred fiddles that he had laboriously carved from wood.
Nathan Ed Galloway died of cancer on November 11, 1962 onVeteran's Day. His nine-acre Foyil property was donated by his family in 1989 to the Rogers County Historical Society, which maintains the present-day Totem Pole Park.
“All my life, I did the best I knew. I built these things by the side of the road to be a friend to you.”
Some may call Ed Galloway a creative genius. Some may call him slightly deranged. Whatever one may think of him, he was a man of many talents. He worked every day on his creations, up at 5 a.m. and continuing past sunset right up until his death in 1962. He created the Totem Pole Park as a monument to American Indian history and ingenuity. The centerpiece of this nine-acre park is a massive totem pole that rises from the back of an enormous turtle.
The ninety-foot tall totem pole took eleven years to complete. Working mostly by himself, Ed started the totem pole in 1937 and finished in 1948. This massive monument, although generally credited as a monument to American Indian History, was nothing more than a way for Ed to pass the time.
The totem pole was constructed from 28 tons of concrete over a scrap metal and sandstone rock skeleton. The sculpture stands at ninety feet tall, six stories high, and 30 feet in circumference. The pole rests on the back of a massive turtle. Brightly painted renditions of spirit lizards, owls, and Indian chiefs in full headdress Indian chiefs climb to the pinnacle. The tribute to American Indian History features 200 carved pictures, with four nine-foot Indians near the top, each representing a different tribe.
Inside the totem pole, a winding staircase climbs through four stories of circular and increasingly narrow chambers. Access to this stairway is restricted, as the doorway to the inner chamber is always locked.
Ed also built many other sculptures on his property, though none as big as the Totem Pole. Most of these sculptures are based on American Indian history; a massive arrowhead juts up out of the ground, many stylized concrete birds seem like they are ready to take flight, and, across the nine acre park, several smaller totem poles dot the landscape.
After being taunted by his wife, Ed constructed a 12-foot concrete tree trunk, complete with holes for birds to live in.
Besides the large sculptures, the park also contains two ornate concrete picnic tables with animal-form seats, a barbecue, and four sets of animal-form gateposts.
Among the constructions Ed built on his nine-acre farm, he also constructed an eleven-sided building expressly to house the growing collection of fiddles that he was carving during this time. The “Fiddle House” is said to have housed over three hundred hand carved fiddles.
The eleven-sided “Fiddle House” is supported inside and out by 25 concrete totem poles. At one time, the “Fiddle House” contained Ed’s handmade furniture, bas-relief portraits of all the US Presidents up to John F. Kennedy, and, of course, his hand-carved fiddles. In 1970, many of the items in the house were stolen and never recovered.
Restoration of Totem Pole Park
After Ed Galloway’s death in 1962, the sculptures began to fall into disrepair from weather and neglect. Much of the paint was peeling off from the sculptures, and the “Fiddle House” was on the brink of collapse. Then, in the early 1990’s, a large restoration effort was undertaken by the Rogers County Historical Society, in concert with the Kansas Grass Roots Art Association and the Foyil Heritage Association. Over a seven-year period, members and volunteers repainted the totem poles during Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends. The outdoor sculptures were restored, and the “Fiddle House” was restored to its former glory.
Today, the park is owned and operated by the Rogers County Historical Society. The Foyil Heritage Association assists with fund raising and yard maintenance, as well as upkeep on the outdoor sculptures.
Totem Pole Park is now a quiet sloping expanse of lawn, with stands of trees and concrete picnic tables scattered across the nine acre park.
Totem Pole Park is located ten miles north of Claremore, Oklahoma, off historic Route 66 highway and four miles east of Foyil on highway 28A.
Picnic areas can be enjoyed in the beautifully kept grounds during the day. The Fiddle House Museum and Gift Shop is open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Artifacts made by Ed Galloway are on display in the museum.
© 2010 Eric Standridge