< back to articles

World’s Master Carver Ernest “Mooney” Warther – Part 1: History & Tour

Ernest "Mooney" Warther

In this 5 part blog, we bring you a timeless American story of a 2nd grade educated mechanical and mathematical genius in the world’s master carver, Ernest “Mooney” Warther (1885-1973).  Mooney was renowned for his walnutebony and ivory train carvings.  Born of Swiss immigrants in Dover, Ohio, the life and times of Mooney and his family still live on in today’s 3rd and 4th Warther generations.  It is rare in these technological times to find such a family that still maintains its deep-rooted 100 year history, actively passing on its legacy from its sons and daughters who care to take the time to preserve its heritage and share it with the community and world.  This talented family operates as its main source of income, a cutlery business while maintaining the historical Warther Museum, restored home, Button House, and floral grounds, all dedicated to Mooney and his wife Freida.  Mooney’s son, the late David Warther, built the museum in honor of his father in 1963.  Today’s Warther family is made up of many family members consisting of woodworkers, carvers, cutlery makers, and business personnel that are second to none, carrying on and honoring the traditions of Ernest “Mooney” Warther.

DSCN0683a

Above, Mooney carved the B & O Funeral Train replica after the original which carried President Abraham Lincoln.

Mooney was as detailed in every aspect of his life.  His full days consisted of carving his trains with intricate moving parts, working in the steel mill and spending quality time with his family.  In his train carvings, all internal and external parts have exact features that are scaled in proportion from actual size locomotives and box cars.  All working parts move just like the authentic railroad cars they are modeled after.  From pistons timed with driving arms, fly rods with reversing levers, pinned valves, couplers which open and close, to bells and whistles; all having accurate detailed hand-carved pieces and mechanical parts.  His greatest masterpiece was the 1933 Great Northern mountain type locomotive, which has 7,752 parts, shown below.

DSCN0715

Mooney hand-carved everything.  The love he showed in his work and his eye for detail allowed him to carve round parts, all created without the use of a lathe.  It was not until Mooney was in his mid 70′s that he finally used an old Delta Milwaukee drill press as his first power tool with the ebony and walnut density becoming a problem for him as he aged.  The Warther’s could have been millionaires by selling off their Smithsonian appraised hobby as “Priceless Works of Art”, but stuck to their traditional deep rooted family values and kept it within the family for generations to come.  Once again, as Rob Cosman so often reminds us, “Family First” is very apparent with the Warther Family.  Each of the family members have their own special values to offer today’s Warther business, keeping it alive for everyone to see and share.

draw_knife2

According to  Mooney’s grandson and president of Warther operations, Mark Warther…

“My granddad had a balanced lifestyle, making time for all the things that were important to him. He worked in the steel mill, handcrafted kitchen cutlery, carved 5-6 hours a day, traveled, passed on his craftsmanship-teaching his family, and still made time for his wife and five children every day.  Uncommon in today’s standards.”

DSCN0721 - Copy

Mooney’s dedicated wife, in Mark’s eyes stated, “Freida was a true partner.  Granddad used to take her sewing machine belts and use them without her knowing until she turned on the machine and never said a word!”

DSCN0616

During the Warther home restoration, a rare and early carving of Mooney’s was found in the attic of the house.  Although it was not as detailed as Mooney’s later carvings, it showed early promise of what was to come.  Mark stated, “Granddad would throw out carvings less perfect that were not in accordance with his standards and work ethic!”

old_dewitt

 

We visited the Warther Museum and from the moment we stepped into the facility, we were treated like a member of their family.  Mark gave us a personal tour of the museum and son-in-law and marketing director, Steve Cunningham showed us the historical home of Mooney and Freida.  I cannot express enough, our thanks to Mark and Steve for spending the entire day with us so that we might bring this story to you.  Their handed-down family work ethic and personal attention to everything showed during our visit.  I highly recommend personally touring the Warther Museum and surrounding area, you won’t be disappointed.  Here is our tour (condensed) and the history of Ernest “Mooney” Warther and family.

In three upcoming blogs on the Warther’s, we’ll show you detailed whittling instructions by David Warther on the basswood pliers shown in the above video.  In the third blog, we will take you on the Warther woodshop tour where the family tradition continues in making cutlery today.  Another blog will have Steve and Mark discussing with us a carved chess set given to actor Henry Morgan as a thank you from Mooney for getting him on the Johnny Carson Show in 1965.

Pliers 1Woodshop 4Chess Set 1

Be sure to visit the Warther Family Museum, Button House and Home located in Dover, Ohio.  There is so much to see, you will need more than one visit!

Warther Museum2

We hope this inspires all of you, as it did for us, stay linked,
auf Wiedersehen…Frank!

 
Add a comment

Comments (25)

  1. avatar
    John Morris, March 21, 2013
    Thanks for a wonderful blog, what a woodworker, and what a family! I cannot believe those trains, incredible. Now we need to travel to Ohio someday, just for this. Looking forward to the next three blogs. Reply
  2. avatar
    Darrell Janssen, March21, 2013, March 21, 2013
    Looking forward to the later posts too! This is a pleasure to read and feel the true craftsmanship a gift technology can't recreate. Reply
    • avatar
      frank, March 22, 2013
      Darrell, Thanks for your entry. Today's Warther generations truly work hard to extend what granddad taught them. If you get a chance to visit them, you will see that for yourself. However the re-creation of Mooney's hobby could not be duplicated by others even back in the early to mid 1900's, let alone in today's standards. This is how Mooney received his title, "World's Master Carver". Reply
  3. avatar
    G.L. Gould, March 21, 2013
    Words can not fully describe the quality and detail in these works of art. I've been through the museum twice and each time more detail comes out from the carvings and workmanship. This a must see museum in Walnut Creek ( Holmes County) Ohio, right in the middle of Amish Country. If your into carving and mechanical interactions put the Warther Museum on your bucket list. Reply
    • avatar
      frank, March 22, 2013
      G.L...You are correct, besides the museum, the surrounding countryside offers some fine Amish cooking restaurants, quilting and china shops, cheese factories, and some fine little towns in which to spend a peaceful day. Great area for photography too! Reply
  4. avatar
    William Babb, March 21, 2013
    I knew Mooney Warther and always held him in great admiration. We still have several of his kitchen knives that get daily use. Some were mine but most were my mother's obtained between 50 and 60 years ago when we lived in New Philadelphia, a town adjacent to Dover. Their simple design makes them especially useful and durable as well as attractive. I'll probably pass them down to my kids but I doubt they'll appreciate them as I do. Reply
    • avatar
      frank, March 22, 2013
      William, I bet it's great to have known Mooney. He seemed like he was a real character and full of knowledge that you can never replace. Sometimes I wish I was born in that era, just to know and have those type of people around me. It seemed like a simpler time when family meant spending it together. I received a quote from Mark Warther this morning who shared with me this, "Silence goes along way in spending time with what you love to do. Having noise in your ears doesn't accomplish that." ...Carver, Ernest "Mooney" Warther. To mark we laughed at the values (or lack of) that today's technologies sometimes bring us, and the differences between the children who visit Warthers that come from the farmlands of this country as compared to the city children. He stated that the kids from the farms have a better attention span and respect for what the tours offer, where the city kids do not and are seemingly bored. Says a lot for hard work ethic and proper mind-set being a good combination. Reply
  5. avatar
    Garry Smith, March 22, 2013
    Amazing. Thanks for the information. Reply
  6. avatar
    Mary Hooker, March 22, 2013
    We have had the pleasure of visiting the Warther Museum a number of times in past years when we were in the area. It is an amazing place, and you will not be disappointed. When I came upon this blog and video, I brought it to the attention of my adult son, who was a small child the first time we visited Warthers. When the video was demonstrating the small wooden pliers being made by Mooney's grandson, I retrieved the ones made for my son, more than 20 years ago, from a treasured place in my china hutch. They were autographed by David Warther, Mooney's son. Our kitchen drawers also contain the beautiul Warther cutlery and chef knives, which easily outrank any high-end commercial knives we own. If we are ever in that part of Ohio again, a day at Warther's will be a sure thing. Thanks for the memories! Reply
    • avatar
      frank, March 22, 2013
      Thanks Mary for all your kind words. The Warther's are a great family, and they truly treated us as part of the family the day we spent with them for Woodcraft. I spoke with Mark this morning, gathering additional information for the next blog on his father and Mark's siblings. We had a terrific conversation with some great family quotes and shared some joking points as well. I hope to get back up there this summer as a regular tourist and enjoy the day once more. Thanks for posting and following us here...Frank Reply
  7. avatar
    Philip Lautzenheiser, March 22, 2013
    My mother went to school with her generation of Warthers and we strive to take every out of state guest to the museum. I have also had the pleasure of taking several of my school classes there on field trips. The museum is truly a national treasure! Reply
  8. avatar
    Lew, March 22, 2013
    We should all try to pack as much living into life as he did. Thank you, Frank, for providing us with his story. Reply
  9. avatar
    Bob Dome, March 26, 2013
    My father took our family to Dover when I was 12 or 13 years old, I am 65 yrs. old now. Mr. Warther met us at the door and carved a set of plairs for my mother and then signed them. Today they sit on a shelf behind my desk at work. My Dad bought my mother a paring knife. She used it so much the blade was worn so thin from my dad shapening it for her over the years she finally stopped using it. It now sits on display in our dining room. My wife has the same style paring knife with an engine turned blade she uses every day. The Warthers have provided my family with many fond memories!! Reply
    • avatar
      frank, March 26, 2013
      Thanks for your post Bob. Glad you have fond memories of the Warther event in your life. I still remember all the places my parents took me when I was a child. Great times. Family integrity is a wonderful thing to share. Reply
    • avatar
      Jim Dome, March 26, 2013
      Dad - good to see you were able to post to a Blog. Next time we are up for a weekend - we should take a trip over to the museum so James can visit with his Grandad and make another memory! J.B. Reply
  10. avatar
    Andy, March 26, 2013
    I am not a museum person I find them boring. I could revisit here every time I'm in the area and tell everyone that I know to go there. It is truly indescribable Reply
  11. avatar
    cweddleton, March 26, 2013
    Beautiful, I could watch all day - thanks very much Reply
  12. avatar
    Bob, March 26, 2013
    One comment says people into carving will enjoy the Warther Museum. I've known people who couldn't be farther from carving or even woodworking in general who find the place amazing, and go there whenever they're in the area. And the knives they still make are marvelous, and a bargain for the quality. Reply
  13. avatar
    Gary, March 27, 2013
    This place is on my my bucket list. What a wonderful story. I am looking forward to the the rest of the story. Reply
  14. avatar
    Edward J. Ortmann, March 28, 2013
    Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. What an inspirational man and family. Reply
  15. avatar
    Carl Skinner, March 30, 2013
    Great place to go, been there a few times and would like to go back. His carvings are some thing to see. He carved Presidents Lincoln's train that carried his body for people to view. There is a lot of detail in his carvings. They make knives of all kinds and are a work of art. Reply
  16. avatar
    Arnold, August 3, 2013
    Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to your website? My blog is in the very same area of interest as yours and my users would certainly benefit from a lot of the information you present here. Please let me know if this alright with you. Thanks a lot! Reply
    • avatar
      frank, August 5, 2013
      Not at all, feel free to use and credit this content. Reply
  17. avatar
    dode overton, February 1, 2014
    frank, it is a miracle. after thinking i had somehow lost my dads lifetime pass to the museum that mooney had made him some 40 - 50 years ago... i found it today! it is made of a peace of tusk and says ---- life pass to harry overton and guest to warthers. i cant tell you you excited i am to have recovered this long lost item and the remembrance of all the hours i spent in the shop with mooney. also the mornings he picked me up to go arrowhead hunting behind our house. Reply
    • avatar
      frank, February 5, 2014
      That's a great thing you've got there. If you can, shoot a photo of it and send it to me at frank_byers@wooodcraft.com, and I will add it to the blog with your story as an addendum. Thanks!! Reply

Add a comment

Top
(it will not be shared)