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Shell Lake, Wisconsin

Museum of Woodcarving

The world's largest woodcarving collection includes dozens of Bible scenes and a wooden bestiary, all carved by one man. 

After a revelation from God (who allegedly spoke with a German accent), schoolteacher Joseph T. Barta dedicated 30 years of his life to a massive woodcarving project. The end result is Wisconsin’s Museum of Woodcarving, the largest collection of its kind in the world.

The museum’s most popular draw is the life-sized statuary depicting Biblical scenes, which visitors walk along in chronological order. Over 100 figures carved from pine make up the statuary. There’s the usual characters at the Nativity and the Last Supper, while the Crucifixion includes a jeering midget and the Devil at Jesus’ feet. Two women fight over a baby in the Judgment of Solomon. In one bleak corner, Judas hangs from a noose, casting his guilty shadow on the wall.

In a much cheerier section of the museum there are over four hundred tiny, lovingly crafted animals. Bears, skunks, alligators, porcupines, they’re all there. Their fur, feathers, and scales were all carved with care from oak, poplar, walnut, and basswood.