October 08, 2021

Yves and Marie-Françoise Aubron, Vendée miniature / Miniature Vendée

market on a square near the church
all pictures courtesy of Vendée miniature

The market on a square in the image above is part of a collection of miniature scenes created by former cabinetmaker Yves Aubron and his wife Marie-Françoise Aubron. The collection is open to the public in Bretignolles-sur-Mer, a commune in France along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

town hall with a wedding
Life and works

Marie-Françoise and Yves Aubron grew up in the Pays de Mauges, an area more inland, north-east of Bretignolles-sur-Mer. 

Yves Aubron became a furniture maker. In 1987 he had an accident at work, which left him unable to walk for some time. During the period of recovery he made some crafts, such as a cart that was widely used in the area. This gave him the idea that it could be interesting to have a scene depicting such a cart in its daily environment, and along that way a plan arose to create a miniature village.

villagers drinking coffee at the café

He needed time to heal and think about his plan in relation of his professional future.

But then, in 1994 Aubron started making the plan a reality. He created the first models that would become part of the miniature ensemble he had in mind, an impression of a village in the Vendée at the beginning of the the 20th century.

the train passes the mill on the hill

In 1995 Aubron had already made such an amount of miniature creations that they could be exhibited on a 45 m² tableau in the community of Clisson, about 200 km north-east of Bretignoles and near the region where he grew up.
In the same year, Aubron registered as an entrepreneur in Bretignolles-sur-Mer, and it can be assumed that around that time the Aubron couple had settled in that community, presumably with the intention of eventually establishing a permanent exhibition there.

But first there was in 1997 an exhibition of the miniatures in Tiffauges, a community near Clisson and this presentation covered an area of 100 m².

It is not entirely clear when exactly the location in Bretignolles-sur-Mer was put into use, but it must have been around 2000. In any case, in 2004 a company was founded, the Vendée Miniature Company, which specialized in the creation of miniature models.

women busy picking grapes

Creating a variety of miniature scenes of
village life in he Vendée in he early 19th century

In the building in Bretignolles-sur-mer where the village miniature Vendée is now located, there is a 450 m² display that by a variety of miniature scenes shows life in a village in the Vendée as it was at the beginning of the 19th century..

There are some 80 different buildings, all at scale 1:10, made of natural materials such as slate, granite and limestone. In addition to the houses of villagers, there are also several larger buildings, such as the church with a tower of 3 meters, the town hall, a station building. mills on a hill.....

All transport is by horse and carriage and it is admirable that the 40 carts and wagons are accurately modeled after what they looked like in earlier times.

villagers around a house,
including a woman with a spinning wheel

That accuracy can also be seen in the authentic clothing worn by the 650 models of the people who portray village life. Many of their activities take place outside in public area, but people can also be seen when they are indoors, as those scenes are lit up.

An attractive aspect of the collection of miniatures is that many parts of the arrangement can move, not only the train and the mills, but also all kinds of tools operated by workers and others

villagers play boules

In 2019, the Aubron couple ended their involvement in the Vendée miniature. The site was taken over by the young couple Thomas Legris and Juliette Moret, who have ideas for new activities.
a donkey for a covered wagon

* Website of Vendée Miniature
* Website Vendée Tourisme (in English)

* Video by TV Vendée (2013, YouTube, 1'33")

Vendée Miniature
50 rue du Prégneau
85470 Bretignolles-sur-mer, dept Vendée, region Pays de la Loire
visitors welcome, for opening hours see website

October 02, 2021

Veistosreitti Arboretum Mustila / Sculpture trail of Arboretum Mustila

all pictures courtesy of Raija Kallioinen

At the end of the summer, the Arboretum Mustila in Finland is exceptionally open to visitors in the early evening. As the picture above shows, the walking paths are then lit with braziers. Music is being played and the cafes are open.

During such an evening opening, visitors to the arboretum will experience the special atmosphere of flora and fauna while walking along the paths, an atmosphere that is heightened by the appearance of the many wooden sculptures that line the paths.

Wooden sculptures?

Indeed, the arboretum has been graced by dozens of wooden sculptures, mostly made with a chainsaw by non-professional artists.Thus, this arboretum can also be seen as an art environment in the capacity of a sculpture trail. 

In the field of art environments in Europe there are only a few of such creations, with the most authentic site being the Sculpture Trail created by Frank Bruce in the Cairngorms National Park in Feshiebridge, Scotland.

The Arboretum Mustila is located in the community of Elimaki, some 115 km north-east of Helsinki. It was founded on the premises of a mansion named Mustila in 1902, mainly to see if exotic conifers could thrive in the Finnish climate.

Apparently the test was successful, because the Arboretum has now become a unique area, 120 hectares in size, richly filled with about 100 species of conifers and more than 200 deciduous trees. 

In addition, there are many colorful flowering perennials, shrubs and  also vines.

The Arboretum has a few special places, such as the Rhododendron Valley, which blooms in June and then forms a veritable sea of flowers with its hundreds of species.

The dozens of wooden sculptures along the walkway are also such a special feature. 

The sculptures are provided by experienced non-professional artists who work with the chainsaw, such as Leo Laakko , Taisto PehkonenJuha Käkelä and Leo Löppönen.

August Eskelinen at the open evening in 2021

Special mention deserves August Eskelinen, who has contributed the largest number of sculptures to the Arboretum's collection. 

He was born in 1975 and currently lives in Lappeenranta, some 115 km east from the Arboretum. Although in his young years he was creatively engaged in making drawings, his woodcarving activities only started in his early forties.

Currently Eskelinen has a studio called Puuveistos Studio Eskelinen (Woodcarving Studio Eskelinen) and makes woodcarvings to order. 

this image and the next two show some  
wooden sculptures created by Eskelinen

Early 2020 Eskelinen saw a message saying that there would be sculpture days in the Arboretum in June 2020. He signed up and was allowed to participate. 

His participation resulted over time in the contribution of a large number of wooden sculptures and in a friendship with the staff of the Arboretum which entailed that he got involved in the further development of the site by discussing which type of woodwork creation best suits the Arboretum.

Finally two informative remarks. First, it should be mentioned that the placement of the wooden sculptures is part of an arts project of the Arboretum, which is financially supported by the EU Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Secondly, in Finland there is a long tradition of woodworking with the chainsaw by non-professionals. The Finnish Association for Rural Education organizes an annual Bear Festival, a woodcarving competition, which in 2021 took place for the eighth time in Ilomantsi.

* Website of the Arboretum
* Article on the YLE website about the sculpture days June 2020
Article on the MSL website about various self-taught artists, including August Eskelinen

Arboretum Mustila sculpture trail
Mustilantie 57
47200 Elimäki, part of the municipality of Kouvola, region Kymenlaakso, Finland
the Arboretum can be visited all year round

September 28, 2021

François Aubert, Maison décorée / Decorated house

this picture and the next one (2003)
by Bruno Montpied, from his weblog

The house pictured above still can be seen along a departmental road just outside the community of Antignac in the Auvergne area in France, although the sculptures that in 2003 still decorated the frontside, meanwhile have been removed.

Life and works

François  Aubert (1902-1982). a bricklayer who lived here, started in 1949 to give the front and the side of his house a different look. 

In various places of the three-storey high building he made platforms that were connected with stairs with various types of handrails.

The facade of the ground floor got four niches crowned with a semicircular arch of red bricks with a narrow strip of white stone at the top.The most left niche, in which a red door, decorated with a skull, had narrow pillars left and right, again topped with a semi-circular arch, this time of gray stone.

The walls of the other niches were fitted with a window and with square gray colored paving stones, as well as a horizontal beam just where the semicircular arches begin. Next to the niche on the far right, a staircase goes up to the first floor where the main entrance is located.

The semicircular arches of the niches support the floor of the terrace on the first floor. This part of the construction was also colorful, with the thickness of the floor, as well as the front of the supporting cross beams provided with a distinctive yellow color. Currently these yellow colored aspects have disappeared.

The balustrade of the balcony also got a special design. This by a division into compartments, corresponding to the niches of the ground floor, each compartment comprising eight white pillars. The compartments were separated from each other by a block of light brown stone masonry.

Adding concrete sculptures

The in itself decorative architecture was further embellished by Aubert by situating single-handedly made concrete sculptures in all kinds of suitable places at he exterior of his house. 

Just an impression. Upon and in front of the horizontal beams on the niches of the ground floor seahorses got a place. The upper edges of the balustrades of the balconies served as a place for concrete sculptures of animals such as wolves, deer and springbok.

The banister of the stairs to the first floor was decorated with a snake. On the wall separating the niches of the ground floor from the street, elongated pre-historic reptiles were given a place. The wall of an extension to the right of the main house was decorated with a large pitcher, male heads on a pedestal and a rearing horse.

Arranging the sculptures on the frontside of the property and on balconies made them highly visible to anyone who passed by the house and, in general, the inhabitants of Antignac appreciated the display.+ Aubert was also asked by some residents to make sculptures to brighten up their own garden.

a view of the house in 2020
picture via streetview

After Aubert's death in 1982, the sculptures for some time remained part of the property. In the images at the very top of this post, taken in 2003, they still can be seen, but in the years after the sculptures, including creations in wood that Aubert also made, were spread over various parties. 

In 2014 Aubert's property was bought by visual artist André Fialip. In the first outbuilding on the left side of the house, he established his gallery, which is now indicated on the facade with colorful inscriptions.

The adjacent outbuilding now houses the Maison de la Minéralogie du Massif Central, a continuation of the collection of stones already assembled by Aubert, which at his time was accessible through the door with the skull, as mentioned above.

* notes and photos by Bruno Montpied on his weblog
* article and photos by Sam and Jo Farb Fernandez on website SPACES
* article in the book by Bruno Montpied, Le Gazouillis des Éléphants, 2017
* article by Emmanuel Boussuge in Revue Recoins, nr 2 (summer 2008), p. 42-47

François Aubert
Decorated house
along the D3,  just outside Antignac 
(about 1 km from the western border of the built-up area of the community)
Antignac, dept Cantal, region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes
decorations have been removed, the house can be seen from the street

September 17, 2021

Manfred Leistner, Weihnachtsburg / Christmas Castle

pictures (April 2021) courtesy of 
Marcus Obst from his website

The picture above shows an apartment building as seen from the street in Stützengrün, Germany. a small community of some 3200 inhabitants, located in the Ore Mountain Range. The exterior of this building includes a variety of decorative and architectural surprises.

Life and works

The man who provided all those surprises has also added the self-portrait below to an outside wall, stating the period of his creative activity as 1994-1998 and in all modesty only indicating his name with the initials M.L. 

The abbreviation M.L. refers to Manfred Leistner. About his activities as a non-professional artist there is not much information available in public sources.

It is known that he was born on June 10, 1928 and passed away on February 18, 2014. He owned the house discussed in this review, worked in a cement factory and retired in the early 1990s.

Perhaps to have something to do when retired, he decided to decorate various parts of the property, a project that kept him busy from 1994-1998.

Decorations on the front side

The sides of the house that are visible from the street have at least two separate decorations, as shown in the images below (crops from the top photo).

It is unclear to what extent the gray pavement tiles that cover most of the front and side facades are part of the project, but if that's indeed the case, then that was a fitting choice.

The picture left above shows the decoration on the corner of the front and side facade. It includes the sun lighting a trio of trees around a deer. The scene has been made with mainly washed concrete.

This is a form of concrete, which hardens for a few hours after pouring, after which the top layer is washed away, and the gravel in the mixture becomes visible. This type of concrete has an attractive architectural appearance and Leistner made extensive use of it.

It is hard to see in the topmost image of the house's facade, but the quadrangular gabled roof (far left in the image) is supported by a sculpture of a male made from sandstone. The picture above right shows him in an enlargement.

Similar sculptures of male characters can be seen in other parts of this art environment, which could mean that the character here at the top right is part of the creation. This is further enhanced by the fact that a decorative element of the same sandstone has been placed in the wall of the tower, just below the male character. 

What all this says about the tower-like structure as such remains uncertain, but it increases the possibility that this tower was added to the original front of the house and thus is a part of Leistner's decorative project.

Decorations at the courtyard

Behind the house is a courtyard with several buildings, including a garage. 

In the absence of a floor plan, the location of these structures is not clear. However, the photos do show that this courtyard is the most extensive part of the art environment

Like there is a house, as pictured above, with a front of masonry separated in the middle by a hall-round column of washed concrete. 

At the top of this column, a chapel-shaped niche accommodates a sandstone sculpture of a miner. Above this miner an eagle looks down from the far end of the ridge of the house, which is further topped by a copper-colored dome.

The house with the copper-colored dome is connected to a tower by a semicircular stone arch. When it comes to architecture, in German such an arch is referred to as Schwibbogen, a large arch stretched between two parallel walls without masonry that overloads it. 

Looking through this arch, another house can be seen. It has a window with a semicircular candle holder, which is known as the Erzgebirgischer Schwibbogen (Arch of the Ore Mountains), a typical part of the folk art in the area of the Ore Mountains. 

The building also has three niches with as many sculptures.

These three sculptures are quite different from the sandstone sculptures Leistner made of workers. It is therefore possible that he did not make these three himself, but bought them.

Next, let's take a closer look at the tower just mentioned.

The tower can be seen as a Christmas pyramid, a Christmas decoration that has its roots in the Ore Mountains Area in Germany. 

Such a pyramid is an upright, mostly wooden structure, with a number of four-  to eight-sided platforms with Christmas scenes..A vertical bar topped with a paddle wheel connects the centers of the platforms to facilitate their rotation by the rising heat of burning candles.

The tower created by Leistner indeed is topped with an aluminum-colored ceiling fan, which  probably doesn't rotate, but is meant to emphasize that this tower is a Christmas Pyramid. On top of the fan there is a model of a green and red colored locomotive.. 

Below the fan the stone tower has three square platforms with compartments that house small sculptures of personalities, including a scene that depicts the birth of Christ. These niches are lit by electric lights in the shape of candles.

To round off the tour of Manfred Leistner's art environment, below is an example of creations he also made, namely elongated stone slabs with sculptures in haut-relief.

The sculptures on the left and in the middle depict men and women, sitting on a chair, busy with all kinds of daily activities. The people in the middle are seated left and right of a (church?) building. The man on the right looks a lot like a friendly forester.

The semicircular candle holder in the middle is an Erzgebirgischer Schwibbogen, which we already encountered above.

Above an image of a relief referring to trains, an elongated one of a train on a viaduct and a smaller one with three wagons. Judging by the trains in this relief and by the locomotive on the ceiling fan, it seems that Leistner was a lover of trains.

To conclude

The photos above, taken in April 2021,  show that after the death of Leistner in February 2014, the site has been well maintained, which is partly due to the solid quality of the processed material, but which is of course also related to the good care of relatives.


As mentioned, there are virtually no public sources that discuss this art environment. The above review is based on the information in:
* Article and a variety of photos (April 2021) in the website of Marcus Obst;  the photos have also been published on Flickr

thanks to Marcus Obst, who drew my attention to this art environment

Manfred Leistner
Schulstrasse 14
08328 Stützengrün, Saxony Federal State, Germany
can (partly) be seen from the street

September 10, 2021

Čičmany, Vyzdobená dedina / Decorated village

this picture, by PMATAS, licensed under 
Creative Commons Share Alike 4.0 International

Unlike the colorful frescoes painted on the houses of the Polish village Zalipie, the houses of the Slovakian village Čičmany have a decoration of white ornaments, usually geometric in nature and sometimes with schematic realistic motives, such as depictions of birds and other animals.

The village dates back to 1272 and has about 200 inhabitants, who mostly live in black wooden half-timbered houses with ridge roofs.

this picture and the next five courtesy of
Sophie Lepetit, from her weblog

The tradition of decorating the houses started in the early 1800s. 

The village is located in a swampy area and to protect their house from humidity the inhabitants initially decorated the corners with mud, which later changed to the use of white lime, which also was added to other parts of the outside walls.

White lime on a mostly dark background is of course striking and residents, mainly women, started to make decorations of the white lime, in which it is remarkable that gradually a more or less uniform style was developed.

In 1921 the village was hit by a major fire. Many houses had to be repaired. 

The Slovak government arranged for funds to be made available for this recovery. This allowed Čičmany to keep the character it had for ages.

In 1977 a government decision was made to the effect that the decorated houses and buildings were designated as cultural heritage.  

In this way 136 houses and buildings got a protected status and became  part of the world's first folk architecture reserve.

In Čičmany two houses, which also function as a museum,  can be visited. 

The Radenov house, one of the best preserved houses, has a general exhibition. It's open all year.

The other one is the neighboring Gregorov house, which has an ethnographic exhibition on history and folklore of Čičmany and its surroundings.

The decorations that appear on the houses in Čičmany are quite original. 

They can be seen in embroidery in costumes worn by residents, but also in images on tablecloths and other forms of textiles.

Inhabitants of the village focused for a while on making handkerchiefs decorated with motifs such as on the houses, later they also started making felt boots, with applications based on these motifs.

* Article on the website of Atlas Obscura, with a series of pictures
* Article on the touristic website Travel to Slovakia
* Article on Turisticky, another touristic website 
* Article on the website Only Slovakia
* Article on the website Itinari

* Video (14'29", March 2015, YouTube) by Milan Kosec

* Short video (1'23", November 2014, YouTube) by Travelers Videos

* To see more videos about Čičmany on YouTube, click here

Decorated village of Čičmany 
Žilina region, Slovakia
decorated houses can be seen from the street

September 02, 2021

Martin Sabaka, Repliky známych budov / Replicas of famous buildings

this photo and the next three (2004) by photographer Alan Hyza

The small community of Východná -some 2500 inhabitants- in  the Žilina region of northern Slovakia was home to an art environment that included a variety of replicas of famous buildings and statues from all over the world.

Life and works

This art environment was created by Martin Sabaka , who was born in Východná on September 1, 1925.

After primary school, he trained as a shoemaker. He was in military service from 1945 to 1947 and then he worked as a shoemaker. Sabaka married in 1950 and got two sons, Martin and Jan.

In 1962 he got another job, he went to work at the transport department of the railway station of Poprad, some 30 km east of Východná. This job he had until his retirement in 1986.

Once retired, Sabaka in the late 1980s began making creations he installed in the garden at his house in Východná.

The general theme he followed was the manufacture of replicas of famous buildings and monuments from all over the world.

Sabaka's dream of one day traveling the world has not come true and he has never been outside  Slovakia.  As he has said in an interview with a newspaper:
    "This region has never been rich and in the past it was not even possible to travel around the 
      world  as it is today. So I took the world to the garden"

With information gathered from all kinds of books and magazines and by collecting material on a nearby dump, Sabaka started making replicas of well known buildings, such as the Eiffel Tower from Paris, the Statue of Liberty from New York, the Leaning Tower from Pisa, the Tower Bridge from  London, the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro and the like.

Sabaka's own country is represented by Bratislava Castle, a massive building with four corner towers, located in the middle of the capital Bratislava, on a hill directly above the Danube River and by Bojnice Castle, a Romanesque castle built in the 12th century, one of the most visited castles in Slovakia.

In the approximately thirty years that Sabaka has worked on this art environment, he has made more than 20 creations, some of which are 3 meters high.

Sabaka worked with great eye for detail. This can be clearly seen in the images of the towery structures above left and right (crops of some of the four photos more upwards). 

In the buildings depicted on the left the windows have been carefully cut, the middle ones with an added small landing at the bottom, while the upper elements of the towers are meticulously finished with balustrades, spherical decorations and mini-towers
The windows in the buildings depicted on the right are also neatly deepened and fitted with frames, while the upper round parts of the towers rest on carefully crafted buttresses.

It has been reported that Sabaka had provided the Eiffel Tower with small-scale visitors, who were watching down and that a small boat with tourists was sailing near the Tower Bridge.

photo (2014) by photographer Alan Hyza

After Martin Sabaka passed away on January 3, 2016, his house probably changed hands, what entailed that the art environment could not be maintained and that the creations had te be removed..

Fortunately, most of the creations have been preserved. They are stored in a storage facility managed by Sabaka's son Martin. who with other interested parties is looking at the possibilities of relocation of the creations in a new location.

Seen from the field of art environments, it would be a good development if Martin Sabaka's creations, which are of relatively high quality, would get a suitable, publicly accessible place in the community.

The photo below, by Pavel Konečný, gives an impression of the current storage.

picture by Pavel Konečný

* Article (July 2004) in regional newspaper SME

Martin Sabaka
Replicas of famous buildings
Východná, Žilina Region, Slovakia
site doesn't exist anymore, but the creations have been stored