The Nazis burned down synagogues. Moshe Verbin rebuilt them in miniature.

Tiny reminders of the vibrant culture of Eastern European Jews

The late Moshe Verbin was born in 1920 in Sokolka, a town in northeastern Poland. He immigrated to Israel at the end of 1935, believing that his family would join him a few years later. They did not, however, and were discovered by the Nazis in January 1943. Verbin’s family was deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered upon arrival.

Moshe Verbin and his wife Mira in Israel, Summer 2000

Two decades after the end of the war, Verbin picked up a book containing illustrations and rare photographs of Eastern European synagogues that were burned down during World War II. It triggered positive childhood memories of religious life in Poland and inspired him to breathe new life into the structures. For the next 20 years, he set about creating wooden synagogues in 1/100 scale, based primarily on the illustrations in the book.

Wood was a common building material for Jews in small Eastern European towns in the 17th and 18th centuries, as it was abundant, high-quality, and cheap. For his models, Verbin used a combination of wood scraps and straw, the latter material being similarly abundant and cheap in his environment (around his house). Verbin’s work has been showcased in galleries and museums around the world, and is now on permanent display at ORT College in Jerusalem. Here are some examples:

Gombin, Poland

A model of the synagogue of Gombin, Poland built in 1710 and destroyed by Germans in 1939

Gombin is a small town west of Warsaw that Jews had already settled in by the latter half of the 16th century. The synagogue was built in 1710 with Baroque-style towers and domes that resembled some of the churches built around the same time. Between the world wars, Polish authorities deemed the synagogue a historical monument and a testament to the cultural contribution of Jews in Poland. The Germans destroyed the synagogue on September 21, 1939.

Grodno, Belarus

A model of the synagogue in Grodno, Belarus, built in 1750 and destroyed during WWII

Grodno is a city in Belarus that became a famous center of learning for Jews in the 17th century. The wooden synagogue was built in 1750 and can be seen in the photograph below.

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An old photo of the wooden synagogue in Grodno

Khodorov, Ukraine

A model of the synagogue in Khodorov, built around 1652 and destroyed by the Nazis

The wooden synagogue in Khodorov, Ukraine, was well known for its interior decorations, its colorful paintings, and its intricately-carved doors. Inscriptions of biblical verses, prayers and proverbs adorned its walls.

Jurborg, Lithuania

A model of the synagogue in Jurborg, built in 1790 and destroyed by the Nazis

The synagogue in Jurborg, Lithuania was built in 1790 and renovated in 1870. Its attic served as a hospice for the poor.

A drawing by Andriolli in 1872 that Verbin used in the creation of his model

Narowla, Belarus

A model of the synagogue of Narowla, built in the mid 18th century and burned by the Germans during WWII

Narowla is a small town in southern Belarus on the banks of the Pripyat River. The synagogue was constructed in the mid-1700s and burned by the Germans during WWII.

Janow Sokolski, Poland

A model of the synagogue in Janow Sokolski, built in the mid 1700s and destroyed by the Nazis during WWII

The synagogue in Janow Sokolski, Poland was built in the second half of the 18th century. The town’s census in 1775 counted 214 Christian residents and 221 Jews.

Zabludow, Poland

A model of the synagogue from Zabludow, Poland, built around 1635 and burned to the ground during WWII

Jews settled in the small down of Zabludow, Poland at the end of the 16th century. The synagogue, built from oak wood, was constructed around 1635 and enlarged in 1765. It was considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in Poland until its demise in WWII.

Warka, Poland

A model of the synagogue from Warka, Poland, built around 1811 and destroyed during WWII

Warka is a town south of Warsaw whose synagogue was built around 1811. The prayer hall was covered with paintings depicting animals, symbols, landscapes, and prayer verses. German soldiers burned it to the ground in September 1939.

For more photos of his work and histories of the synagogues, visit this site

All the tiny things that caught my eye this week

#1. Gulliver’s Gate is coming sooner than you think to the heart of NYC! Get excited!


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You can follow their progress on their website and facebook.


#2. I’m sort of in love with these pole-dancing Barbies…

I go to pole dancing classes in Paris from time to time, whenever I feel like humiliating myself (it’s a sport, and it’s hard). So when I saw these Barbies, I got a little too excited. Here is my expert commentary on their skillz:

In the following photograph, the doll is clearly mid-spin. It looks like a variation of the stag spin, where instead of folding the other leg back she’s kept it straight. Props for being able to look at the camera while spinning. But it’s still a beginner’s move.


In the classic sit move, you’re generally straddling the pole with your legs, not sitting completely on the outside of it. I give this next one props for her ab muscles which have got to be strong even though I know she is resting her butt on her left fist for support. (don’t forget, those shoes are heavy!).


Next, we have a physics-defying situation. All I can say is girl, you are wasting energy by not actually hooking your right leg to the pole. I wish I had her flexibility tho.


In conclusion, the Christmas tree backdrop is awesome, but these dolls could use a few more pole-dancing lessons. For more (including yoga!) follow Bonbonygram on Instagram.


#3. In keeping with my miniature car junkyard theme this week, here are some tiny cars in trouble from artist Jason Van Horne.

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#flashflood #diecast #disasterzone #abandoned

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Follow Jason van Horne for more “small scale depictions of large scale disasters.” (And thanks dollpower for helping me discover this artist).


#4. Masaya Okada is a miniature artist who recreates famous paintings.

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Detail. left wing. Miniature reproduction. Botticelli " La Primavera " Acrylic, fake gold leaf (brass) on cardboard. Size: 85x130mm(1/24 scale) This frame was also my handmade. Wooden moldings, fake gold leaf(brass) , acrylic. Size:100x145mm. Ordered work. Price 100,000yen. 全て仕上げました。 これは左翼の詳細。 ミニチュア模写、ボッティチェリ「ラ・プリマヴェーラ」 厚紙に偽金箔(真鍮)押し、アクリル絵の具。 サイズは85x130mm(1/24スケールです) 額も自作品で、モール加工、組み合わせに偽金箔(真鍮)押し、アクリル絵の具。 依頼品です。 こちらの価格は10万円。 #アート#アートワーク#ドローイング#アクリル画#アクリル絵の具#アクリル#模写#ミニチュア#細密画#ボッティチェリ#ドールハウス#art#artwork#acrylic#acrylicart#acrylicpainting#miniature#drawing#dollhouseminiatures#dollhouse#fineart#painting

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#5. These minis from Atelier Vanilla inspired me this week.


That’s it! Have an awesome weekend!!


Inside Jens Trenkle’s miniature car junkyard

German artist Jens Trenkle buys broken 1/18 scale diecast models and breaks them even more. He sands them down, then adds acrylic paint and natural materials like moss and dirt. When the cars are sufficiently rusty-looking, he adds them to his junkyard diorama. Then he photographs them, and unless you knew they were miniatures, you’d definitely think they were real. Here are some of my favorites, and you can check his facebook for more.

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All the tiny things I found online this week

#1. Well this isn’t going to be easy…

D. Lointhier, the artist behind the Versailles and Trianon Project, aims to create a model Chateau de Versailles as it was during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI (1715 – 1789). Here are photos of his progress. You can follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

#2. This 19th century French diorama can be yours for $4,465.53.

#3. There’s a facebook group and twitter account dedicated to Stonehenge models. And they’re not always, um, historically accurate.

There’s stonehenge chalk. Or chalkhenge.

Stonehenge ice cream. Creamhenge?


More cheesehenge.


And butterhenge:


#4. I’m loving these stop-motion Barbie videos

For more videos, check out Dollpower on instagram and twitter.

#5. Petros Chrisostomou loves to play with scale in his photography.

You can check out more of his work here.


That’s all! Have an awesome weekend 🙂

These miniature toys were considered a “war essential industry” in WWII

Most toy factories shut down manufacturing to aid the war effort. Not this one.

Tom Jensen, a Danish immigrant and graduate in the field of mechanical engineering, found himself unemployed during the Great Depression. In order to stay busy, he constructed six samples of a miniature, 12 pound brass steam engine that could be used, for example, as a generator to light a flashlight. It was his way of capitalizing on the nation’s fascination with steam-powered railroads.

The original miniature steam engine from 1923, courtesy of Jensen Steam Engines

European companies like German toy maker Bing had already been manufacturing miniature steam engines since the turn of the century. But this was the first time an American took a swing at it.

A hand-colored photo of the original steam engine from 1923, courtesy of Jensen Steam Engines

Jensen’s prototype was picked up by F.A.O Schzartz Toy Store, with other retailers such as Macy’s and Spiegal Catalog Company quickly following suit.

A Jensen model from 1937

But the start of World War II threatened to put Jensen’s dreams on hold. The toy manufacturing sector came to a stand-still, as factories, including Jensen’s, were ordered to shift their activities to support the war effort. Erector Set, a maker of miniature metal construction sets, redirected its manufacturing toward munitions. Lionel Train Co., a model train and railroad company, raised chickens for the war effort.

Shiny red Jensen flywheels, photo courtesy of TribLive

Jensen Manufacturing Co., on the other hand, was soon deemed a “War Essential Industry” by the US government and issued an exemption from the manufacturing ban. The Army’s Chemical Warfare Department had determined that the steam engine was strong enough to power an air pump that tested for the presence of poisonous gases. To keep up with government demand, the factory remained open 7 days a week.

A photograph of Londoners donning gas masks during WII, courtesy of the Telegraph

Jensen continued to grow his company after the end of the war and all the way up to his death in 1993 at age 92. The business was taken over by his son, Tom Jr, who still preserves the manufacturing process used to create the original prototypes. It’s no wonder the factory has been described as a “trip back in time.”

The Jensen factory in modern times, photo courtesy of TribLive
Photo courtesy of TribLive

Jensen’s four employees produce around 2,000 to 3,000 steam engines every year. Costing anywhere from $150 to $773 and available online, the items remain popular for collectors, schools, and model-builders. There’s even a Jensen’s collectors’ Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of TribLive

Vintage models can go for as much as $7,500 at auction. Here are a few (less expensive) Jensen steam engines currently for sale on ebay:

Check it out here
Check it out here

It’s hard to think many kids today would be interested in playing with a miniature steam engine for fun. And I can’t think of any 21st century toys that could power a poisonous gas detector. Perhaps today’s equivalent would be a drone? There’s an interesting article in Collector’s Weekly about how model trains, popularized during the height of the steam-engine craze, went from “cutting edge to quaint.” Changes in technology may be the reason we no longer see miniature steam engines marketed toward kids. But it would be kinda cool if they made a comeback!


Via Jensen Steam Engines and TribLive

The miniature replica of Café de Flore in Paris

Charles Matton crafted a miniature version of his favorite hangout.

Café de Flore’s long and storied history as a gathering place for writers, painters, intellectuals, and movie producers makes it a treasured spot for Parisians and tourists alike. In 1939, Jean-Paul Sartre had this to say about it:

“We settled into (Café de Flore) completely : from 9am to noon, we worked there, then we went to eat, at 2 o’clock we returned and we engaged with those we met until 8 pm. After dinner, we held meetings there. That may seem bizarre to you, but we felt at home in Café de Flore.”

The café on a beautiful summer day (Oh I miss warm weather…)

On my first trip to Café de Flore, I found myself sipping an over-priced though delicious hot chocolate, crammed between an American family on vacation and two French men in suits whispering furiously about Israeli politics.


I tuned out their conversation and soaked in the café’s Art Deco style, which hasn’t changed since World War II. Then, feeling nice and warm from my chocolat chaud, I climbed the staircase to the second floor in search of the real reason I was there: a miniature replica of the café made by Charles Matton.

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Created in 1/7 scale, the miniature scene mirrors the café’s Art Deco design, down to details in the lights and flooring. Matton adorned the walls with tiny black and white photos of famous individuals that frequented the establishment.


Charles Matton was an artist, painter, sculptor, writer, photographer, and movie director who passed away in 2008. In 2006, he created this miniature replica, noting that “with all certainty, the Café de Flore is part of my life, it is a piece of me.” He explained:

“What gives Flore its charm is the certitude that, no matter what time, we’ll see faces there, known or unknown, that feel like neighbors, with a concern for elegance, humor, and most of all, tolerance.”


He titled the piece “Petit Matin du Flore”, or “the early morning of Flore.”


The tiny screen in the back plays a repeating video of cars driving by on what looks to be a wet, cold morning.

Charles Matton made an entire series of miniatures, many of which were reconstructions of real places. Here are more examples of his work:

Yes, that’s Charles Matton sitting in one of his miniature boxes.





You can check out his website for more beautiful miniature artwork, and don’t forget to stop by Café de Flore next time you’re in Paris.

Via Messy Nessy Chic

Weekly Roundup: a miniature shoo fly chair, a game of mini vs real, and some other tiny things

Here’s my weekly list of miniatures to keep you busy this weekend.

#1. A miniature Shoo Fly Chair

This “Shoo Fly Chair“made by Madelyn Cook and housed at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures is a miniature replica of an actual chair from the Governor’s Palace Kitchen in Williamsburg, Virginia. Before air conditioning, cooks would open windows to get some air, inadvertently also letting in the flies. So they came up with a perfectly obvious solution: a pedal-operated fly-swatter built into a chair.

A miniature shoo-fly chair made by Madelyn Cook for her work Lagniappe, an 18th century Virginia Tidelands mansion modeled after George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon.

Here is an image of the original. This woman seems very calm and fly-free.


#2. Can you tell the difference between the real and the miniature?

This is a fun game. One photo is of the real storefront and the other is a photo of the sculpture made by Randy Hage.




Okay… so the reflections kind of give it away. But to be sure, you can check your answers and see more of his extraordinary work here.

#3. This Marie Antoinette doll is mesmerizing.

She was crafted in 1784 by the German cabinetmaker David Roentgen and according to Atlas Obscura, her lace dress may have been made from fabric of one of Marie Antoinette’s dresses.

#4. Mini food that made me hungry this week…

#5. The French game “jeu de massacre” was a shooting game for kids that creeps me out.

There is very little information online about how the game was played, but it seems to involve children shooting at tiny, everyday scenes like marriage and fishing. I promise to keep researching this one, as I have found some truly bizarre images that merit explanation.



That’s all, folks! As always, thanks for reading and sharing. Don’t forget to sign up for the email list below, and have an awesome weekend 🙂 Au-revoir!

Teeny tiny model ships with heavy loads of history (and one goat)

They may fit in your hand, but the stories they tell are harrowing.

I recently came across a model ship-maker on Instagram with a passion for reducing “big grey monsters” to teeny tiny sizes. Joseph Lavender posts jaw-dropping photographs of his creations, which are almost entirely scratch-built.

As you can see, Joseph also has a penchant for history. To him, these aren’t just tiny ships, but mysteries and tragedies as well. Because I also love a good dose of history with my tiny things, I’ve compiled a list of Joseph’s three models with the most interesting backstories.

#1. The German Battleship Scharnhorst

During WWII, the German Battleship Scharnhorst was among the most successful and the most feared in the German navy. In her home country, she was known as “Lucky Scharnhorst”, and was a source of national pride.


Scharnhorst was sunk on December 26, 1943 by the British in the Battle of the North Cape. British war veteran Norman Scarth, interviewed by BBC in 2011, recalled the ship fighting bitterly until the end, firing the last of its cannons until it sank into darkness. He admitted to still being haunted by the voices of men screaming for help in the water. Scarth’s crew received orders to leave the area immediately due to incoming threats, and in the end, just 36 men were saved out of almost 2,000.

Joseph Lavender’s Scharnhorst, modeled to match its appearance the day it sunk, was made on a 1/2400 scale (what!) with extreme attention to detail.

The casting is from GHQ models, and the masts, rigging, and base were all made by Joseph Lavender.

You can even see a swastika on the edge of the ship.


#2. HMS Montagu

HMS Montagu was a battleship of the British Royal Navy, launched in 1901.

In 1906, the ship was involved in a bizarre accident where in fog, she plowed headfirst into Lundy Island off the coast of England. The navigating officer, having acted on faulty information, believed the ship was 4 miles off the coast. He was in the middle of congratulating himself for a job well-done when he heard the sound of grinding metal and propellers being ripped off. The captain and lieutenant were found guilty of negligence for their roles in losing one of the finest ships in the Royal Navy.

A photo of the crash, courtesy of Submerged

It took two months for Joseph Lavender to recreate the HMS Montagu as she appeared in 1905.

The hull is cast resin from Combrig and the rest of the detail, including the masts and superstrucure, were photo-etched or scratch built by Joseph Lavender.



#3. USS Helena:

The USS Helena was a US Navy gunboat launched in 1896 that served in the Spanish–American War, the Phillippines, and later in China.


She saw some action in the Spanish-American War from her position in Cuban waters, but spent most of her life on diplomatic missions. For me, the most interesting thing about the ship (and I apologize to the navy buffs out there), is the awesome mascot she had. Here is Bill, dressed in a lovely coat adorned with “H” for Helena.

Chief Petty Officer Jack McSherry with Helena’s mascot “Bill” aboard the gunboat in the early  1920s.

Joseph’s 1/700 scale model ship lacks goats, but makes up for this oversight in its stunning detail.

The hull is from Combrig and the detail is Joseph Lavender’s usual photo-etched brass and stainless steel.

He uses the standard white paint scheme common for all pre-WWI American warships.



Joseph Lavender has been turning brass and resin into tiny ships since he was a child, but has become more focused and serious over the last 10 years. And although he still insists on being called a hobbyist, citing professionals like Kostas Katseas for contrast, it’s clear that Joseph is a talented model-builder with lofty goals. He’s currently raising money for new supplies, with which he promises to use his craft to share “funny, strange, mysterious, and tragic tales from the high sea.” If you want to join in the adventure, be sure to follow his instagram account.

Via Submerged and BBC

Tiny stuff I found on the web this week, brought to you by a boar’s head

#1. It is now possible to step inside a dollhouse.

This little girl did it using virtual reality, and the video of her reaction is adorable. If you do one thing today, I highly suggest you explore the 3D images that her dad used to create the virtual experience and think about what this means for the miniature world. What if we could actually STEP INSIDE our creations? The future is here people.


#2. These pics of a dollhouse-inspired fashion show from last year are stunning.

Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail
Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

#3. If you like dollhouse renovation stories, you should follow Allie’s House on instagram.

She decided to renovate her Lori dollhouse in an industrial/loft style. This is how it’s sold on Target’s website:


This is the renovation so far (it’s not complete):


Can’t wait to see the final thing!


#4. This instagram account makes me reconsider my lack of interest in dolls…


So chic. Check out the Spanish-language blog for more photos.


#5. Enough with dollhouses. Light bulbs work just fine.


Yaakov Blumental sells his miniature works – get in contact here.

#6. Because I always need a little weird in my life, here’s some eerie miniature photography.

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Encounter on Route 3 (green)

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And finally, the featured image is a wonderfully bizarre boar’s head, currently available for purchase at D. Thomas Fine Miniatures. I have a lot of questions about this boar, by the way. What happened to it? Is it covered in barbecue sauce?

That’s all, folks! If you’ve read this far, it means you like what you see. Scroll all the way down and add your email to get regular updates from La Vie Mini. Do you have suggestions, critiques, or article ideas? Please email me at The blog is two weeks old and I’m still learning lots. The website is getting a revamp this weekend, so check back for design improvements and new comment sections 🙂

I’ll leave you with an image of someone who would like me to please put the computer down now and take him for a goddam walk. Have a nice weekend!