To call Ernest “Mooney” Warther a carver is the equivalent of calling Rembrandt a painter. Both of them are masters of their trade and in a category of their own. After a visit to the Warther Museum in Dover, Ohio you will feel quite comfortable calling “Mooney” the Rembrandt of carvers.
Ernest Warther was born in1885 to parents who had emigrated from Switzerland to Dover, Ohio. His father died when he was only 3 years old. His family struggled to make ends meet which meant he was only able to attend school through the second grade. He went to work herding cows to pasture for a penny a day. It was during this time that he got his nickname “Mooney” which is short for the Swiss word “moonay” which means “Bull of the herd”.
His interest in carving was also born during these years. He met a hobo who carved a pair of pliers for him in 10 cuts and this along with the penknife that he found began a career that would span his entire life and lead to incredible works of art. He was offered vast amounts of money for his works which he refused; he enjoyed his life and felt he had everything that he needed without selling his works.
As he grew older he went to work in the local mill. His interest in carving remained but since he never sold his art, he also needed to make a living. He worked in the mill for 23. At the age of 25 he married Freida Richard and together they would raise 5 children in the house that you can still tour today.
The visitor center at the Warther Museum is connected to Mooney’s work shop and if your group is small, you should be able to actually go into it and see where he created some of his most famous masterpieces. Visiting the museum is on a guided tour and if the next tour is not scheduled too soon, you should be able to go and tour the family home.
Freida’s button collection is located in a small building behind the house. Freida was also an artist. She created amazing works of art from the over 70,000 buttons that she collected. The garden is also lovely and depending on what time of year you visit, will offer a wide variety of flowers and colors. All of these are worth visiting but of course, the main attraction is the museum itself.
There are several short films that you watch at different points during your visit. You may also get a visit from Mooney’s grandson who will carve a set of the iconic pliers for you. It is amazing to watch and I still carry those cute little pliers in my purse to impress people.
In all honesty, until I saw the first of his carvings, I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. It’s just wood carving after all. I was so wrong, this is not wood carving, this is Art. In 1923 he began carving The History of Steam. This is a series of trains carved mostly from ebony and ivory and the detail is extraordinary. To say that our mouths were hung open through most of this tour is not an exaggeration. It is beyond anything you can even imagine. It is a gorgeous history lesson that every member of the family will find fascinating.
The trains are so detailed you will be in awe. In the Lincoln Funeral Train you can see the face of Lincoln in his coffin inside the train car, it is unbelievable. All of the trains are working models, the wheels turn and the trains move. When I say you have never seen anything like this, I am not exaggerating.
This is a museum that should not be missed by history lovers, train lovers, carving lovers and just anyone who want to tour a really interesting museum that is one of a kind. I have been to hundreds of museums and guess what; this one is in the top 10 ever. I was so impressed by this man who I had never heard of before I went here that I feel compelled to share this with everyone. I want to thank the couple that we met in Indianapolis who recommended it because otherwise I might have missed it and that would really have been too bad because it was amazing and I don’t use that term to refer to a museum often.
After you finish your visit to the museum you will see the family knife making business which is how Mooney supported his family since he did not sell his art. He could not find a knife of the quality that he needed to carve so he created one. His philosophy that products should last forever is evident in the quality of his knives. The knives are still handmade today and are of the finest quality. You will get a chance to purchase some of them when you visit the gift shop.
I can’t stress enough how special this museum is and if you are going to be anywhere where near Dover, Ohio please visit here and find out why the name Mooney Warther is so well known in this little town. There is so much to see here that one visit may just not be enough, plan accordingly.