The Amazing Emile Brunel

I've found that repetition often results in making the extraordinary rather ordinary. I remember being tickled over this totem pole the first time I saw it - and a dozen or so times after that - but then it became just another blurred form on the passing landscape, a sign post telling me how much longer we'd be on the road before reaching our upstate getaway. After nine years I finally decided it was time to stop and investigate. I'm glad I did - what I found out was indeed extraordinary!

The totem was erected in 1933 by photographer/sculptor Emile Brunel. Each segment represents key moments of his fascinating life. Brunel was mostly known as a celebrity portrait photographer and the founder of the Brunel School of Photography. His interests led him to cinematography and in 1916 he released the silent film, The Hand of God. He also dabbled in invention, creating a one-hour film development process that (surprisingly!) didn't take the world by storm. When he built his Catskill summer home in Boiceville he surrounded it with his eccentric sculptures. It is said that after his death in 1944, his ashes were interred within one of his creations. Behind the totem is a now-defunct trading post, which during the 20's and 30s was operated by Brunel's daughter, Gladys. The trading post was hugely popular and saw much traffic, even into the 1990's when Brunel's granddaughter took over.

Around the corner from the trading post sits Brunel's impressive home. A stunning bas relief adorns the full length of the structure.

The home and its surroundings have been placed on the Register of Historic Places. These impressive pillars flank the path that leads to the park.

This stony fellow acts as doorman, keeping an eye on the place. Rowdy behavior will not be tolerated.

I was the only person there on this beautiful fall day. I felt a calming sense of peace amid these powerful, silent figures.

Until I saw these freaky heads!

Just yards from a main thoroughfare, Brunel Park transports you to another world, to a holy place.
Statues erected and dedicated to the Great White Spirit and to the grandeurs and mysteries of nature. By Emile Brunel - 1933


  1. Interesting post. I'm doing some research that involves a student of the E. Brunel School of Photography. Do you happen to know the name of Brunel's granddaughter? If so, please e-mail me at Thank you.

  2. Emil's ashes sit atop the statue of "freaky heads" in a makeshift urn that you can actually see in the photograph. The statue has to do with good an evil in a way I am not 100% positive about but I believe that the faces of good sit atop the faces of evil which could be construed as good overtaking evil. That's the way I see it anyway. Emil is my great grandfather. Drue Lynch

  3. Drue - Thank you for adding this! What a cool great-grandfather you have!

  4. The model for the four faces on top are currently in Cody, WY. The model was built because Emile would be working about 14 feet above the ground. The four faces represent Moses, Jesus Mohammad and the greek god Pan.They were done in the same size as the final faces of good at the top of the statue. The labeling of the four faces of evil at the bottom of the statue have been lost and because they were done while standing on the ground there was no necessity to make a model ahead of time, Jack, husband of Emile's grand daughter, Gladyse, and caretaker of the model.

    1. jack, I have been looking for relatives of Emile. Have you any idea what happened to his photograph collection? I am looking for one he took of a friend aboard a ship in 1932. Can you help?? JK

  5. Could someone tell me what town or mileage marker the totem pole is found off of route 28? We saw it on the way in to the mountains but somehow missed it on the way out.

  6. Town of Olive, Hamlet Boiceville NY. I'm the grand daughter Anne Brunel Mulligan. I ran the shop for 10years before I sold it. You can reach me at -- subject type Brunel Park.

  7. I would love to visit,,,directions??

  8. Route 28, on the right, just before you get into Boiceville from the south. Hope you find it!

  9. Jack - thank you for the info!

  10. Feel free to contact us at
    We have founded Friends of Brunel Park to steward and manage, preserve and celebrate the life and work of Emile Brunel.