This presentation is part of Are We There Yet? Preservation of Roadside Architecture & Attractions Symposium, Tulsa, Oklahoma, April 10-12, 2018.
By Erin Turner
Located in Foyil, Oklahoma, just a few miles west of historic U.S. Route 66, stands the largest concrete totem pole in the world measured at seventy-eight feet tall. Constructed between 1937 and 1948, it is estimated that 28 tons of cement, six tons of steel, and 100 tons of sand and rock comprise this structure. Most of the natural materials were collected from a nearby stream by Ed Galloway, the man behind this incredible sculpture. This large concrete totem rises from the back of an enormous turtle carved from an outcrop of sandstone, in tribute to the American Indian and Turtle Island, the indigenous term used for North America. The concrete totem features over 200 hand-sculpted bas-relief creatures and American Indian portraits, including four nine-foot tall Native American chiefs that stand near the top: Quannah Parker, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Chief Joseph. “All carved, and each one means something. Been offered a million but won’t sell. When he dies he will donate it … for a park.”
This structure is one of fourteen other concrete sculptures that encompass the largest and oldest grassroots art environment in Oklahoma including Galloway’s eleven-sided studio which now operates as the gift shop and museum. Due to its proximity to U.S. Route 66, Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park has become a popular tourist attraction, bringing in thousands of visitors a year from all over the world.
After Galloway’s death in 1962, the Totem Pole Park fell into disrepair. In 1982 the Kansas Grassroots Art Association initiated a restoration project that would take over sixteen years to complete. In 1999 Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park became recognized in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2014 the Totem Pole Park had once again succumbed to severe weathering and bleaching of the painted surfaces. Another restoration project begun, spearheaded by David and Patsy Anderson, directors of the Totem Pole Park, Erin Turner, Margo Hoover, and the Rogers County Historical Society. The team has completed two phases of restoration on the large totem. This presentation will discuss grassroots art environments, new preservation standards for concrete structures, and the future restoration phases of the Ed Galloway 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.”
Erin Turner is a site-specific installation artist and social practice artist who is interested in land-based practices, preservation, and collaboration. Recent work has been seen in the Queens Museum, CODA Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, Sideshow Gallery Brooklyn, and Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa Hardesty Arts Center. She has contributed to Hyperallergic, Social Action: An introduction to the Principles and Practices of Teaching Social Practice Art, This Land, and is a member of Social Practice Queens. She is currently working on a long-term project restoring the Ed Galloway Totem Pole Park in rural NE Oklahoma.
Erin has attended Pratt Institute, La LLOYTA in Barcelona, the University of Tulsa, and La UMSA (Universidad de Museo Social Argentino) Buenos Aires, receiving her BA in Fine Arts with emphasis in Painting in 2007. She resides between the Rockaways, NYC, and Upstate New York, and is an MFA graduate of Social Practice at City University of New York, Queens College.