DYERSVILLE, Iowa — Jude Becker spent more than three years rebuilding and renovating a horse barn built in 1865 to house prized artifacts — the woodcarvings and other works of his father.
Becker Woodcarving Museum, located a few miles north of Dyersville, houses more than 40 years of Jack Becker’s work.
“I have no idea how many pieces there are here in total,” Jude Becker said. “It’s in the thousands.”
John “Jack” Becker started carving for himself sometime in the 1960s after a stint in the military, a couple of years carving furniture professionally in Thomasville, N.C., and one year apprenticing for a Russian master woodworker.
His obituary said he “returned to Dyersville to farm and establish his own woodcarving business. He was the creator and owner of the Becker Woodcarving Museum.”
He continued to carve and sculpt until his death in 2003 at the age of 62, his son said.
Jack’s carvings include everything from 8-foot-tall grandfather clocks themed after the Bible, Gettysburg Address and Moby Dick, to figurines of all kinds that fit in one’s palm.
While he could carve out of just about anything, Jack liked the detail he could get out of local hardwoods such as chestnut and cherry, according to Jude. He said Jack got his inspiration from cartoons.
“(Jack) was interested in drawing cartoons, and he figured out a way to make them three-dimensional,” he said. “He was quite prolific. Growing up watching him, it takes a while to gain an appreciation.”
Jude said his father sold some of his work on commission to hospitals, the Catholic Church and other religious organizations. “He was well known for numerous sculptures including religious sculptures that adorn area churches,” his obituary stated.
What remains in the museum isn’t for sale. Jude said his father was offered “a lot” of money for some of his larger pieces, but if he liked it, he refused to sell.
“Sometimes it would drive my mom a little nuts, but she understood,” he said.
Jude likes to dabble in woodcarving, but it is more of a hobby for him than it was for his father.
Rather, Jude estimates his biggest contribution to Becker Woodcarving Museum is, well, the museum itself.
“You wouldn’t have thought it, but the hardest thing ended up just figuring out where to place everything,” he said. “That, and we brought in a museum specialist to figure out the proper lighting.”
Jude, a 40-year-old Iowa State University graduate who raises organic, free-range pork on the same property as the museum, is the sixth generation of Beckers to live and work on the property.
After all his hard work, the museum has become a special place for him.
“There’s just a spirit, a creative power here,” he said.
It shows. Dyersville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Karla Thompson recently brought Assistant Director Janet Steinbach to the museum for the first time.
“I had no idea what to expect, but when we got there I was blown away,” Steinbach said. “I could not believe the number (of carvings). The grandfather clocks are just gorgeous. The detail is stunning.”
The 152-year-old building has been completely modernized and passed Steinbach’s eye inspection.
“Jude has gone to a lot of work to make a very nice facility for people or groups to come visit,” she said. “If you haven’t seen it, you really should.”
Becker Woodcarving Museum is open by appointment. Call 563-875-2087 to schedule a time for a tour.