The art of the miniaturist

When 84-year-old Moshe Samter walks along the beach or through the Carmel Forest, he keeps his eyes down, searching for shells, nuts, stones, seeds or simply junk.

miniature art 88 (photo credit: )
miniature art 88
(photo credit: )
When 84-year-old Moshe (Herbert) Samter walks along the beach or through the Carmel Forest, he keeps his eyes down, searching for shells, nuts, stones, seeds or simply junk. For Moshe Samter creates the most amazing miniatures - dolls' houses, rooms, libraries, concert halls complete with wiry figures and musical instruments, fairgrounds and parks - all out of natural sources and bits and pieces he collects along the way. The many expressions of his politicians in the Knesset chamber and the speakers and hecklers at Hyde Park Corner are formed out of split pistachio nuts; offcuts from old Egged bus upholstery carpet his luxury salons, the pictures of authors on the walls of the library are made out of stamps. The tableau of Hyde Park started when Samter found two smooth stones which were shaped like statues. After retiring from his office job in 1986 he looked for a hobby. He found an old, broken cane curtain on his balcony and started creating miniature chairs with the material. These cane chairs developed into exquisitely embroidered Georgian and Victorian chairs and tables. Moshe Samter created more and more models, each more intricate and larger than the former. He exhibited in 1990 at the Israel Center for Education Games in Tel Aviv and later in 1992 and 1995 at Beit Abba Khoushi and Beth Yad Lebanim in Haifa. From creating furnishings, he began to build rooms and dolls houses. His handwork is meticulous and his Regency bedroom is complete with a paneled bed dressed with tiny embroidered pillows and dressing stool. A complete dolls' house with an English garden opens up to reveal the detailed furnished interior. Eventually, he ran out of space in his own home, and four years ago, with the support of the director and staff of the Leo Baeck Education Center, he established his collection of over 100 models in a well-lit and spacious area next to the library of the school, which can be visited on weekdays when the building is open. A smaller display is kept in the entrance of the sheltered accommodation where he lives. Guiding us around the collection, the sprightly octogenarian shows the chronology in his work. There is the nostalgia for his European roots, the elegance of the Victorian salon, the humor of an empty pub at closing time, with the tables still laden with glasses, and an odd collection of hats which have been left behind. There are many piquant details such as a drunk holding up a lamp-post, the alte zachen mobile shop laden with bric-a-brac, as well as Scrooge sitting at his desk in a scene from A Christmas Carol. There are reminders of his childhood in Germany with models of his grandmother's kitchen and laundry room, a tiny picture of himself as a child in the window of a shoe-shop, and an immaculate pharmacy with a parquet floor made out of 600 pieces of wood. Looking at the elegant and beautifully finished artifacts, one has to look carefully to find that the source material is actually recycled from nature. Born in Reichenbach, Germany, Moshe and his family escaped the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel in 1936. He served in the British Army in Palestine in World War II and in the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence. Samter studied the art of book-binding, but in order to support his wife and three children he spent his working years behind a desk. During that time he did make toys for his children. Evidence of that book-binding experience can be seen in the miniature bookbinder's workshop and the many representations of drawing rooms and libraries. In fact, he modeled a fold-out, beautifully bound miniature book using stamps and presented it to the Dolls House International Magazine in celebration of their 100th issue. The tableaux are detailed and authentic, as can be seen in the placing of the ark, bimah and memorial lamp in the synagogue model. He makes the most ornate chandeliers out of nutshells. Now widowed, his married children and his companion Haya encourage him in his art. His daughter created his attractive and professional web-site: The groups of kindergarten and schoolchildren who visit this museum are intrigued by the models - some of which light up - such as the Pyramid of the Louvre and the rotating botanical garden. And while he does not confess to being a dog-lover, there are many cute pooches incidentally placed in the models of gardens, parks and rooms. Many miniaturists use kits, but Samter makes his own and keeps it in meticulous order in the drawers of the show-cases. The ever-patient artist, grandfather of 14, provides the visiting children with a hands-on experience as he instructs them in the use of the beads, wires and other materials that make up the furniture, the pictures on the walls and the wood-block floors and carpets. This is particularly enjoyable for the handicapped children and the elderly who visit the museum, who learn how to produce the most intricate of details, such as the doorknobs made out of seeds and flowers made out of tiny buds. Over the years Samter has changed his style and perfected details, such as the parquet floors, and the vitric skill used for windows, ornate mirrors and display cabinets. His knowledge of arts and crafts is ever-widening as he experiments with making models of a concert orchestra, a chess room, an artist's studio - all while making sure that all the artifacts are authentic. "It is an ongoing process," he says as he lovingly arranges all his materials in the appropriate drawers in the show-cases. The Museum can be visited at: The Leo Baeck Education Center, Derech Tzarfat 90, Haifa. Opening hours: Sunday-Thursday 8 am. - 4 pm; Friday: 7:30 am to 1 pm. Tel: 04-8300500.