Retired Washington H.S. teacher’s calls wood carving his simple joy

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

Among the most detailed of subjects are birds, and Dwight Hershberger often employs American Basswood for such projects, due to its light color and minimal wood grain. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

Everywhere Dwight and Joan Herschberger look in their Eureka home there are faces — faces of bears, Native Americans, friends and family, and even actor Tommy Lee Jones.

Pop music star Jennifer Lopez is next in line to appear.

Dwight “Whitey” Hershberger, 71, is a woodcarver whose work not only fills his home but is known throughout the region and has gained attention overseas.

He is featured on the 2018 cover of the February/March issue of Woodcarving Magazine, a United Kingdom-based publication. Not bad for a hobbyist, or so he says.

“I’m just in it to fool around and have some fun learning what I can learn,” Hershberger said.  “It’s a great way to kill time. Just me having fun.”

The “fun” began for Hershberger more than 20 years ago when he introduced woodcarving to his teenage son, Jeff, who lost interest about a year later. Hershberger didn’t lose interest, perhaps because the craft has much in common with ceramics, his first passion.

Hershberger earned a master’s of fine arts in ceramics in 1970 from the University of Illinois, and began teaching art at elementary, middle and high schools in northern Indiana.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Whitey and Joan began traveling between his home town and hers, Eureka, after the birth of his first son.

Dwight “Whitey” Hershberger doesn’t intend to sell his artwork. The craft is “just me having fun,” he said. (Photo courtesy of Cornbelt Carving Club)

“We decided we needed to pick somewhere to settle down, so we moved to Eureka,” he explained. He soon began working as a substitute teacher at Community High School in Washington, a stint that became permanent after a few staff changes.

“Washington High School was looking for a drama assistant. Then the art teacher, she stopped for a year to have a baby,” he said. “Then another lady got pregnant and I ended up there for 29 years.”

He retired in 2004. Joan also worked at WCHS as the school nurse.  She also is now retired.

After leaving the classroom, Hershberger settled in to the studio he had built in the backyard of his Sunny Lane home in 2001.

“I always wanted my own place. When I was doing pottery, I was in my wife’s kitchen and she didn’t like that too much,” he laughs.

Dwight “Whitey” Hershberger’s work drew the attention of craftsmen overseas as he is featured in the current issue of Woodcarving Magazine, a United Kingdom-based publication. He began his craft more than 20 years ago, but took it up as a fulltime hobby following his retirement in 2004 (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

Just a stone’s throw from his backyard, Hershberger’s quaint studio features a vaulted ceiling trussed with beams he excavated from an old barn. A row of three clear leaded glass church windows faces the house. He bought those at an Indiana auction for $7 each, during his “poor” days.

Inside, various saws and sanders stand among neatly organized work areas. Pristine chisels rest in a row beside a bust of Jennifer Lopez, a work in progress. Another station houses a Foredom rotary drill, outfitted with various bits, many of which forge tiny details, such as feathers and fur.

And, like his home, there are more faces there, including his own. A bust of himself sits on a high studio shelf. Another face is that of woodcarver Vic Hood who instructed Hershberger in bust carving.

“Vic was struck by lightning,” Hershberger joked, pointing out a dark tip on Hood’s bust. “The wood got so hot that it roasted his face.”

Hood is carved from local Catalpa wood, a hardwood with rich, thick grains that Hershberger often uses to carves busts. Because of their light colors and minimal grain, he uses American Basswood and American Tupello for intricate carvings like birds.

Busts of Dwight “Whitey” Hershberger’s parents. His father passed away in 2017 at age 99. His mother survives and is 101. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

“I have lots of projects in process,” he said, turning a bird in the light to examine its feathers. “I assume I’m like my parents and I’ll live a long time and get things done,” he added

His father, a former steel worker and coal miner, passed away in 2017 at age 99. His mother survives and is 101. Their busts are displayed in Hershberger’s home. Around 15 carvings reside in his mother’s house.

“I have five siblings, and I should give some of these to them,” he said.

Hershberger has parted with very few carvings.

“I sold all of my pottery to make a living. My wife doesn’t have any of my pottery, so she said, ‘We’ll keep the carvings and give them to the kids,’ ” he said.

Over the years, Dwight “Whitey” Hershberger has carved many likenesses, some of celebrities others of friends and family members. Hershberger carved a bust of fellow woodcarver, Vic Hood. The dark area on the left of the bust was caused by lightning. (Photo by Holly Eitenmiller / for Chronicle Media)

That means none of Hershberger’s carvings are for sale. They are products of a past time he is passionate about, a collection to be passed on to his family.

“I really don’t sell. I carve simply for the joy of carving. I don’t carve for specific shows or anybody in particular,” he said. “It’s a great way to kill time and there are so many things related to it, that you can read and learn and enjoy. I retired so I could do this.”

Though he says he retired, Hershberger still offers his time to WCHS.

“Since I retired, I’ve filled in for five maternity leaves and three long-term leaves,” he said. “I’m still a part-time bus driver, too. I like the people there. They treated me very well and I feel like I owe them. If they need any help, they can just give me a call.”





—- Retired Washington H.S. teacher’s calls wood carving his simple joy —-