When researching things to do in the Amish Country, I read about David Warther Carvings. It had excellent reviews and sounded like another not to be missed attraction. David is a carver of ships and in about 40 years, he has carved 80 of them which he displays at his museum near the town of Walnut Creek. David has another primary job, so these ships are a hobby as he doesn’t make them to sell. In order to see the ships, you have to take a paid tour. Our guide pointed out that he makes about two per year, which is not surprising as they are so detailed and intricate. He has been working on a history of ships from 3200 BC in Egypt to modern times and states that his carving project is about the story of civilization. To create his ships he uses antique ivory, ebony wood and abalone pearl. The Warther Museum reports that the ivory is legal antique ivory that has been donated from museums and private collections within the United States.
The museum displays the ships in rooms by era with large maps on the walls to show the location of the countries where the ships originated. Besides Egyptian, the ancient room includes ships from the empires of Phoenicia, Greece and Rome. Looking at the ships in this museum was a combined history and art lesson. Part of the painstaking work involves doing delicate hand etching and engraving with ink known as scrimshaw as can be seen in the photo below.
David uses blueprints and drawings that he obtains from museums, researchers and scholars around the world so that his ships are built to the same exact specification as the originals.
The photo above is a Greek warship from 330 BC that used 170 oarsmen working an oar each at three different levels. Information from the museum noted that the oarsmen were paid citizens who freely joined and were not slaves. Can you see the little seat at the end of the ship on the left side of the photo? That was the throne for the ship’s commander.
One of the ships in the Age of Exploration Room was the Sao Gabriel, pictured above. It was sailed by Vasco da Gama to India in 1497. He was the first explorer to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, opening the way for trade and discovery. In the photo below is a closeup of this ship’s stern with the little cannons as seen through a magnifying glass.
In the modern room can be found ships from the 1500’s through the 1800’s like the ships of Christopher Columbus (Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria); the Golden Hinde sailed by Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the earth; the H.M.S. Bounty of the famous “Mutiny on the Bounty” story and the U.S.S. Constitution, the oldest Naval ship which still sits in Boston Harbor today. Below is a photo of the Mayflower, a merchant ship which brought the pilgrims to America in 1602.
The photo below shows the intricacies of the rigging which David has developed. He makes a point to come out of his on-site studio for each tour group and demonstrate how he works with such fine lines. He has perfected a special method creating “ivory threads” where the rigging is hand worked to seven thousandths of an inch in diameter before being used on a ship.
Mr. Warther began carving ships as a boy and when he was 17, completed his first major ship model, the U.S.C.G.C. Eagle. Built in Germany in 1936, it served as a training ship for the Coast Guard.
I was really amazed by this museum of carved ships and when the tour was over, we were free to wander and look at them all again if we wished, which I did. It was rather hard to leave as they are such beautiful works of art. But I needed to go on to the next carving museum – the Ernest Warther Museum located about a 30 minute drive away in the town of Dover. Ernest was the grandfather of David, so this is a family of master carvers.
Ernest Warther was born in 1885 to Swiss immigrant parents and began carving at the age of five when he found a pocketknife outside while playing. He came from a poor family and at first whittled sticks and then pliers. Only completing school through the 2nd grade, he later began to focus on steam train engines, carving them from all different time periods. His work spanned 40 years and 64 carvings before he passed away at the age of 87. While pursuing his hobby, Mr. Warther worked at the local steel mill and also started a knife business. For a few years he lived in New York City when the New York Central Railroad convinced him to come and exhibit his trains. He also spent about six months touring the country with some of his carvings. He decided though that Dover was his home and if anyone wanted to see his carvings, they would have to come there. The museum is located on the property of Mr. Warther’s former home that he shared with his wife Frieda and their five children. Next door is a knife factory and store that his family still operates today.
Tours are given throughout the day and unlike most places where a visitor has to start a tour at a certain time, people are incorporated into existing tours when they arrive and then finish up what they miss with another guide. It all works well with no waiting involved. The train carvings were incredible to see. They were designed with moving parts and some of them had wheels and gear shafts turning during our tour. The biggest trains were on rotating tables in large separate cases, like the Great Northern train in photo below. This made it easier to see the different parts of them.
The most well known piece in the museum is Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train. Ernest was a great admirer of Lincoln. Our tour guide explained that Mr. Warther felt a certain connection to the President as Lincoln had also only attended a few years of school and came from poor circumstances.
Ernest carved his trains using walnut, ebony and ivory. He started as a boy using beef bones left over from his mother’s soups. As part of the tour we viewed his simple and very small workshop where he made and kept all the knives he used for his carvings. The exactness in his work and amount of detail was evident as we toured each room that exhibited his trains. At Lincoln’s funeral train exhibit you can look in a window and see a lock on a door with a key hanging on the wall above. There are furnishings, a sink with faucet, even a little coffee pot on the counter. In the photo below, the head of Lincoln is visible as he lies in state in the last car.
In the photo below is more detail from the New York Central train he carved. Four men are enjoying some conversation at their table in one of the cars.
Ernest’s wife was creative as well. During her life she collected thousands of buttons and put them together in intricate patterns, creating many pictures. A small separate studio displays her work. Below is a photo of just one wall of her button creations.
The two carving museums were among the best museums of our travels. I don’t think my photos do them justice though as the carvings are under glass with lights shining on them. This made it hard to take clear photos. I will close with a photo from the town of Sugarcreek, near the museums. Here you can find the “World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock” as listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. At the half hour figures come out and dance as music plays by an Oompah band.