Miniature cathedrals exhibit featured at Dunn Museum in Libertyville

A special exhibition titled "Color and Light: Charles Warner's Miniature Cathedrals" is running through Jan. 8, 2023, at the Bess Bower Dunn Museum in Libertyville.

The exhibit features Mundelein resident Charles Warner's (1884-1964) hand-carved folk art cathedrals, created in remembrance of his childhood in Poland. Each of Warner's five intricate models captures his impressions of the architecture and vibrant colors of the old world.

"Museum visitors are able to view the cathedrals for the first time and take a virtual look inside at the meticulously decorated interiors, filled with color and light," Director of Education Nan Buckardt said.

"Warner's work is stunning. His models are considered folk art, since the artist had no formal training in the arts."

In 1908, Warner immigrated to the United States from Prussia. He was 13 and taught himself to read and write English. By 1920, he was living in Mundelein and working as a carpenter for American Steel and Wire in North Chicago.

After his retirement, Warner began woodworking as a hobby in his garage. Initially, he made birdhouses, which he often joked were so elaborate that he should "charge rent."

Guests at the Bess Bower Dunn Museum in Libertyville can view the miniature cathedrals created by Charles Warner and take a virtual tour of their interiors. Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves

In 1955, he began hand-carving wooden cathedrals with a jackknife and jigsaw, using templates of his own design. The cathedrals each took one year to complete.

Warner died in 1964 and his daughter, Lucille Warner, donated the cathedral models to the Dunn Museum.

"The colorful and complex hand-carved creations served as a link between the traditions of the old world and the hopes and dreams of the new world," Buckardt said. "They were also made in remembrance of his childhood and to teach his children about their heritage."

Cathedrals throughout the world serve as monumental symbols of spirituality, authority and architectural achievement. Cathedrals are Christian churches that house the seat of a bishop, though the term "cathedral" is often mistakenly given to any large, important place of worship.

Construction of these sacred spaces began in the eighth century, flourished from that point through the 16th century, and has continued into contemporary times.

Cathedral architecture encompasses a range of styles. The most common are Romanesque, with thick walls, large towers and symmetrical plans; and Gothic, with its pointed arches and flying buttresses. The beauty and sanctity of old world cathedrals inspired the construction of cathedrals in the new world, incorporating classic elements of famous cathedrals with modern sensibilities.

Special exhibitions at the Dunn Museum are sometimes traveling exhibits presented by national touring companies. Other times, they are the result of the skill, expertise, and hard work of the Dunn Museum staff, which is the case with "Color and Light: Charles Warner's Miniature Cathedrals."

"Staff-curated exhibitions like this one allow us to really delve into what makes Lake County and its residents so special," Buckardt said.

The Dunn Museum has a large collection of items and archival materials that represent many diverse aspects of Lake County's history. However, only a small percentage of the collection can be on display at one time.

"When Dunn Museum staff members curate an exhibition, it enables us to show more of the collection and connect visitors to our collective history," Buckardt said.

The Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County is at 1899 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville. For details, visit

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