The semi-trucks showed up on Tuesday, August 11, at the Museum of Woodcarving in Shell Lake, to load the 400 miniature and the 100 life-size heavy wooden carvings that would take them to their new home in Mansfield, Ohio, 712 miles away.  

The Museum of Woodcarving had been closed since 2018, when the owner, Maria, retired.

Initially located in Spooner, Wisconsin, it displayed the fantastic artwork of Joe Barta.

Joe was born in Algonquin, Illinois, in 1904 into a profoundly Catholic family.

He attended the University of Illinois taught at Northwestern University, and attended the Art Institute in downtown Chicago. He traveled extensively before moving to Spooner to teach Math and phys ed. But he was restless and, according to his sister, Lucy Barta McKay, “searching for the Holy Grail.”

After two years of teaching, he retired and began woodcarving in earnest. He carved 100 life-size carvings and over 400 miniature ones, mainly animals and historical scenes.

He built an unusually shaped building in Spooner with an apartment, a carving room, and a display area way below the floor for his display of Daniel in the Lion's Den. He had a painted carving of Mary outside in an enclave. One year, a family of robins nested in her crown, which brought in many people to see it.

All of his large carvings were people from the Bible, and he used oak, poplar, walnut, and basswood to make them. For his last and most exceptional work, the Last Supper, which took four and a half years to carve, he laminated Ponderous and Sugar Pine together. "He made his own glue," said Maria, who married Joe's nephew to whom the museum went to as in inheritance.

Some of the museum figures had faces influenced by the dreams he believed came from God. One of the lion's faces who stood alongside Daniel in the display, looks like  Joseph Stalin, once the brutal Premier of the Soviet Union.

Herod's face in the display called the Slaughter of the Innocents, had the face of Adolf Eichmann, one of the principal organizers of the Holocaust.

On the pleasant side, Simon's face at the Last Supper was that of his father.

Joseph Barta died in 1972 at the age of 68. He had spent thirty of those years carving.

It was in 1984 when the entire works were moved to Kissimmee, Florida, until 1989.

Here is where Julie Mott-Hardin first saw the display that moved her heart. She also met Maria and her husband Andy, the nephew of Joe Barta, and became fast friends with Maria.

After four years, the museum moved back to Wisconsin, this time to Shell Lake, where it spent almost thirty years. Visitors from around the world came to see the displays. Many left their comments on the dozens of thin boards in the lobby.  

In 2013, Maria contacted her Ohio friend saying she was thinking of retiring and said she would give the museum and its contents to her if she would move to Shell Lake and run it.

Julie and her husband, Clint, had to say no, seeing they were fully invested in the Ohio based BibleWalk, where Julie is the Director. BibleWalk is another Bible museum with 325 full-size figures that make up 100 Bible scenes, but these are all made of wax; BibleWalk.us

Each vignette is backed by murals, all have authentic costuming, and are surrounded with music and narration.

Last year, Julie heard about the museum being for sale and three other parties interested in buying it.

Happily, Hardin's proposal was chosen by the judge, and arrangements were made to truck all the items south to its new location. The Ohio museum is open from June through October and hosts many bus tours during the summer.

Diane Reed, the BibleWalk curator, accompanied Julie to Shell Lake to help supervise the move, Happy there was a great photo of Joe, which they included in the packing.

"I am so happy that I can continue to display all of Joseph Barta's amazing woodcarving. It's the least I can do for my good friend, Maria," says Julie. "This will keep Joseph Barta alive through his work."

The Biblewalk in Ohio has a broader Biblical presence, with its theme being the Unchanging Word of God.

Here is where the opportunity is given to “See His Word, to Hear His Word, to Walk Through His Word and to Experience His Word.”

Joseph's carvings should fit right in.

At some future point in time, the Woodcarving Museum building and land will be sold on the open market along with the contents of the apartment and any other brick-a-bract not taken to Ohio.


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