FOYIL — Artists Erin Turner and Margo Hoover move the platform of their lift machine with the sun.
All day they paint and chase the shade, orbiting the largest totem pole at Ed Galloway Totem Pole Park.
“It’s like our sundial,” Hoover said as the pair took a break from painting on Wednesday morning.
For more than a year, the aging totem pole and popular Route 66 attraction has been the center of their worlds.
The 30-year-old Tulsa natives went to middle school together but left Oklahoma years ago to pursue art careers on opposite coasts — Turner as a freelance artist in Brooklyn, New York, and Hoover as an art teacher in Oakland, California.
Neither had ever heard of Totem Pole Park until last summer when they visited the monument together for the first time. That’s when they found out about the park’s urgent need for restoration work.
“We became obsessed,” Turner said. “We’ve been friends forever, but now our conversations are only about the totem pole.”
The two artists left their homes on far-flung shores to spend the summer working on a piece of Oklahoma art that they want to see preserved.
“I come from Oklahoma, identify with Oklahoma and feel like I have a lot of pride for the state and for its treasures,” Turner said.
She and Hoover both have tattoos paying homage to their home state.
“It’s so lucky and special that we found this and are able to work on something close to where we’re from,” Turner said.
Often touted as the world’s largest concrete totem pole, the monument was completed in 1948 and hasn’t been worked on since the Kansas Grassroots Art Association restored the park’s outdoor sculptures in the 1990s.
David Anderson and his wife, Patsy, now serve as the volunteer directors of Totem Pole Park, which is owned and operated by the Rogers County Historical Society. More than 10,000 visitors pass through the park each year.
Anderson said he had been looking for help in restoring the park’s largest totem pole when he received a call from Turner and Hoover.
“Those two are amazing,” said Anderson, who grew up near Totem Pole Park and knew Ed Galloway, the artist behind all the sculptures.
“When people visit, there’s not a lot to show them around here, but you always take them by the totem pole,” he said.
Anderson lives on a ranch just north of the park and took a break from baling hay on Wednesday to visit the artists and watch them work.
“They’ve done so much research and really want what’s best for the totem pole,” he said.
The pair spent months selecting the right paint for the project and have opted for a silicone, mineral-based paint rather than latex, which was used in the last restoration project.
One gallon costs anywhere from $100 to $500.
“It’s so much more expensive but worth it,” Turner said.
To pay for the restoration project, the park launched an online Kickstarter campaign in May and has also used money from gift shop profits.
Anderson even brought in a photographer to snap pictures of the 200 images on the totem pole. Donors can select one of the images to sponsor with their contribution.
The project will cost about $30,000, and the park is still short about $6,000, Anderson said.
“We want to preserve it for future generations, and I sure don’t want it falling apart on my watch,” he said.
Time is of the essence for Turner and Hoover, who have to go back to work in the fall.
The duo spent the last two weeks power-washing old paint off and started brushing on fresh colors a few days ago.
To make the most of the workday, they’re staying 15 minutes away in a motel and have been at the park seven days a week.
Hoover’s dog, Pizza, sits on the ground nearby and watches their progress as they work from a palate of safari greens, dark pinks and warm yellows.
This is the summer that the childhood friends will remember for waking at dawn and painting together until twilight in the Oklahoma countryside.
“Both of us are so invested in this,” Turner said.
For Hoover and Turner, the totem pole has become the unexpected focal point where home, art and culture converge.
“We think about the future of this site and wonder who will take the torch to keep this space alive,” Hoover said. “There needs to be fresh blood coming in, giving money and finding its importance.”