On the Record with Joseph Dillett

GENOA – Joseph Dillett, 78, has been carving wood since he was a teenager.

He has created beautifully detailed architectural wood carvings in doors, altars and statues for churches. His carvings are spread across the United States. Locally, Dillett has a carving installed at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau.

Dillett donated a wood relief carving that will be auctioned off to support DeKalb County Community Gardens’ Genoa Area Community Food Hub. The 23-by-11.5-inch butternut wood relief carving depicts the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Museum and the adjacent Genoa Water Works Building.

A starting bid of $1,500 has already been received. The final winning bid of the silent auction will be gifted to DCCG via Give DeKalb County, an annual day of giving for more than 100 local nonprofit organizations.

To learn more about Joe Dillett and his works, visit his YouTube Channel The Carving Shop or call his shop at 815-498-9290.

Milton: When did you start wood carving?

Dillett: I started carving in 1957. I was a freshman in high school. I went to a monastery, and that’s where I learned, the Society of the Divine Word in Techny, Illinois. I was always drawing in grade school, and I was interested in art. The monks asked me if I’d like to learn wood carving, so I learned.

Milton: Why wood carving?

Dillett: I like the warmth of the wood. I do stone carving, too, and I like the hardness of the stone. Wood is very versatile and there’s a big demand for it. There are a lot of wood carving clubs, with carvers that do it as a hobby. Most are reluctant to work for customers and their demands.

Milton: What items do you make the most of?

Dillett: I mainly do family histories on fireplace mantles. I’ve probably done more than 650. I do about 20 a year, and they’re 60% to 70% of my business. They show the family’s history: the church the parents were married in, their home, their favorite tractor and lettering. It’s something to pass down to their children as an heirloom. I often go through the family’s photo album with them to choose photos and images, creating the stories they’d like to share.

Milton: What are other items you’ve created?

Dillett: I have also carved altars and statues. I recently carved table legs to send to England and a front desk for a new hotel in Lansing, Michigan. I also just finished a marble bust of the Blessed Mother for St. Paul’s Church in Sandwich. I am working on greeting cards of Genoa: the main street, the entryway to my subdivision, businesses and the food pantry. I hope to sell them as a way to fundraise for the food pantry. I will soon begin working on marble altar pieces for a church in Milwaukee. My brother will be doing the church’s stained glass.

Milton: Do you often do sacred art?

Dillett: I love doing work for churches. Sacred art is a different category of art. Art can make you fall in love, shock people and create emotions. I think sacred art should unite people and move them toward Christ.

Milton: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Dillett: You have to have the passion. St. Francis of Assisi has a quote: “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” An artist, without effort, creates what’s in his heart. I think that I’m a craftsman trying to become an artist, trying to touch on that effortless art.

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.