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

August 29, 2021

Vangelis Vlepakis, Διακοσμημένες πέτρινες κατασκευές στον Κεφαλά / Decorated stone structures in Kefalas

the Monument of Kefalas
this picture and the next five
courtesy of Laura Piri from her weblog

Vangelis Vlepakis, an inhabitant of the community of Kefalas, located on the far east coast of the Greek island of Crete, as a non-professional artist has enriched the community with a number of shell and otherwise decorated stone structures, such as the Monument of Kefalas (as in above picture), a chapel dedicated to Agios Phaourios and a site named Love the forest. 

He also embellished the garden around his house with stone structures and other decorations.

Who is Vangelis?

The internet has just a few sources about these art environments and the non-professional artist who created them in general is just referred to as Vangelis. There is one source (on a geocaching website) which mentions a more complete name, which is Vangelis Vlepakis (O Erimitis). In this post the designation Vangelis will be used.

Born in Kefalas, in his younger years Vangelis lived for ten years in a cave by the sea, which he had furnished as living quarters with his own hands. He then lived and worked in Athens and returned to Kefalas around 1990.

Vangelis then began making creations from locally available natural stones and after a visit to Barcelona, where he saw Gaudi's work, he started decorating his own creations with all kinds of colorful elements

Vangelis is the curator of a museum located in the center of Kefala named Politistiki Estia Kefala (Kefala Cultural Center).

This museum, housed in an old building in the center of the village, displays all kinds of items donated by the villagers, such as photographs, examples of textile art and objects of daily life from a bygone era, that give and impression of life in the village in former times.

In an outbuilding farm implements and various tools are on display.

The Monumento Kefalas

This creation by Vangelis is located just outside the built-up area of Kefalas, along the road to Vamos. Texts on the structure welcome visitors to Kefalas, and because many tourists drive along this road, the Monument is relatively well known and many photos are taken.

The art environment includes a number of more or less triangular vertical stone structures, resembling facades of small chapels. These facades are provided with recesses in which smaller decorations can find a place.

The facades have drawings of stars and various inscriptions. One of these inscriptions mentions the year 1999, which could be the year in which the Monument was completed.

The art environment is not one whole, but it has different parts, each of which has been given a specific shape, such as the structure in the image below, which is composed of a number of tower-like parts.

In addition to the decoration with shells that is characteristic of the entire site, what is striking about this part of the creation is the decoration with blue pots, a decoration that also can be seen in other areas of the site.

The house of stone creations

The House of Stone Creations in Kefalas. where Vangelis lives with his wife Jan. is a special place.

this image and the next one screenprints
from the video in the documentation

The house was built in 1995 and over the next ten years the exterior around the house has been transformed into in art environment, full of stone structures with the same characteristic as the Monumento Kefalas

The house is also referred to as Villa Jan.

The video in the documentation -at the bottom of this post- gives an impression of the spacious design of the art environment, and the many elements that indicate that this is a site in the garden of a house.

Chapel dedicated to Agios Phanourios

this image and the next one by Kreizweh from
the website Geocaching (see documentation)

An open air chapel, created by Vangelis in his characteristic style, is dedicated to Saint Agios Phanourios, who lived in Crete around 1400. About him has been said that he saved many inhabitants of Crete from death when the Ottomans invaded the isle.

An inscription on the creation says it is 700 meters away from Vangelis' residence.

Love the Forest

The stone structure Love the Forest is the most recent of all creations made by Vangelis. The characteristic way in which the artist gives shape to his creations is once again clearly recognizable.

Exact locations of this site, the Chapel of Saint Agios and the House of Stone Creations are not known.

* Website Piristys by Laura Piri 
* Article about Kefalas on the touristic website Kreta Griekenland 
* Website of the Greek Branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society, with a referral to Vangelis' garden
* Entry about the House of Stone Creations on website Geocaching
* Entry about the Chapel dedicated to Agios Phanourios on website Geocaching
* Entry about the stone structure Love the Forest on website Geocaching
* Article in Wikipedia

Video (May 2016, 3'42", YouTube) by Martin Preedy

Vangelis Vlepakis
Decorated stone structures in Kefalas
The creation Monumento Kefalas is 
located just outside the village on the route to Vamos
About the locations of the other creations no information is available
Kefalas, Crete, Greece

August 22, 2021

Sergey Tokarev, Музей самодельных деревянных лодок и других деревянных творений / Museum of homemade wooden boats and other wooden creations

this image and the next one by "Titz of the Vologda region
as on Facebook  (August 2020)

Sergey Tokarev's art environment in the village of Galinskoye in the Vologda region in Russia, in addition to a number of wooden sculptures, for the most part includes all kinds of handmade wooden boats.

Life and works

Sergei Alekseevich Tokarev was born in the 1950s in Cherepovets, a town in the Vologda region, north of Moscow in northwestern Russia. He got a technical education, and for some time worked in the navy and as a car mechanic.

He was very interested in ships and this interest became so great that in his thirties he moved to the village of Galinskoye, where he set up a woodworking workshop on a piece of land that over time would be transformed into an art environment.

Galinskoye is a small village, some 70 km from Cherepovets. In 2010 it had some ten inhabitants. 

this image and the next ones by Misha Besfomilny
as on Facebook (June 28, 2021)

The way Tokarev processed logs into wooden sculptures, can be seen in the picture above, a shed on his property decorated with a large blue fish, installed beneath a parade of small wooden personalities.  

The image below seems to depict two somewhat older characters

But in addition to these wooden sculptures of various characters, from the time he started the site in the 1980s or 1990s, Tokarev mainly produced models of boats, both larger and smaller ones..

The small models, of which he made at least some 700 over the years, were stored on shelves on the wall of the workshop or in sheds on the property.

The large models were given a berth on the site.

In the course of the 2010s, the collection had grown to such an extent and Tokarev was so eager to share his knowledge of boats with others, that he decided to give the collection a public character by designating it as a museum, named Interaktivnyy Muzey "Galinskiye Parusa" (Interactive Museum "Galinskie Sails").

The museum was officially opened in June 2016.

Tokarev welcomes visitors

The designation Museum implies of course that visitors are welcome, and indeed Sergey Tokarev especially welcomed groups of people, with whom he shared his interest in boats by offering them a special program.

Conversely, certain groups, such as families with children, school classes or people celebrating a birthday, like to visit the site because it provides an enjoyable outing.

Tokarev has put together a well designed program to introduce visitors, both old and young, in a fun, playful way to the history of shipbuilding and all kinds of transport with ships.

He not only explains various kinds of boat models, as in the image above, but visitors can actively participate in, for example, paddling a boat on dry land, this being done standing upright, an activity that is often undertaken with great pleasure.

Tokarev, who introduces himself as the jetty commander, actively informs both the youngest and the adult visitors to all things boating, both small log boats and larger models, as can be seen in the images above and below.

He manages to create a festive atmosphere, fluttering with flags. It is also a special moment when one of the visitors is asked to fire a joy shot from an old cannon.

An organized visit with guided tour and explanation, and in between all kinds of assignments and activities, lasts about three hours and most visitors experience the atmosphere and the program as very pleasant and informative.

The program ends in a tea house with a drink and a bowl of goodies..

In the Vologda region, an annual competition in the manufacture of wooden boats takes place in the Ulst-Kubensky district. Sergey Tokarev has been participating in this competition since 2005, and in 2009 he won the first prize.

* Pictures on Instagram
* On Russian website VK a variety of reactions and photos by visitors of the site
* Article (July 2016) on website Moyastrana
* Article (May 2016) in a regional newspaper

Sergey Tokarev
Interactive Museum "Galinskie Sails"
Village of Galinskoye (near Kirillov), region Vologda, Russia
visitors welcome (groups on appointment0
Google Maps (with a series of pictures of the site)

August 17, 2021

Joseph Ress, Le logis des nains / The shelter of gnomes

pictures (2018)  courtesy of Sophie Lepetit,
from her weblog

In the Haut-Rhin department in the Alsace region in France the town of Zillisheim is home to a rather special art environment, namely a rather large collection of gnomes, spread over various areas of a private house.

Life and works

This site was created by Joseph Ress (1934-2008), who was a farmer during his working life.    

Joseph Ress was a special person. He felt most comfortable during periods such as around Christmas, when the house could be lavishly decorated and most people would be in a good mood. 

And so he probably got the idea that the house could also be decorated in a more permanent way. When exactly he started collecting gnomes is not known, but seeing the size of the collection, it seems that he started at a young age.

The gnomes were grouped in all kinds of places in and around the house, not only in the garden, but also in various courtyards, in the garage and in the sheds.

The images above and below of the garden show that in addition to the gnomes, other decorations were also placed, such as small-scale windmills, small sculptures, and the like.

In addition to various arrangements of gnomes, several walls of the house were also provided with all kinds of colorful decorations. 

The two images below give an impression of this. 

The first image shows oil lamps hung in a row in front of a wall that is painted with pictures of fairytale figures and some gnomes.

The other image (below) also shows an arrangement of gnomes on a table, from which also hang some oil lamps. The table stands in front of a decorated wall, this time with horseshoes and other decorations, including attributes from the farm.

On a blog started by Joseph Ress in February 2007, he writes in July of the same year that, stricken with cancer, he finds it more and more difficult to care for his gnomes.

Aged 74, he passed away on November 16, 2008,

The family continued to take care of the collection of gnomes, which - as can be seen on Google Streetview - was still in good condition in 2019. A granddaughter has continued the weblog, adding a variety of colorful photos.

Post (August 14, 2021) on the weblog of Sophie Lepetit
* Weblog Le logis des nains .(created February 2007), continued after Ress died by a granddaughter

Joseph Ress
The shelter of gnomes
8 Grand Rue
68720 Zillisheim, dept Haut Rhin, region Grand Est, France
can be seen from the street
streetview (2019)