Mt. Lebanon home shelters hundreds of little soldiers

| Friday, Feb. 15, 2013, 8:39 p.m.

Dave Frankowski's Mt. Lebanon home shelters hundreds of soldiers — most only about 2 14 inches tall.

Frankowski, 62, creates miniature military figurines starting with molten lead, which he pours into pre-carved molds. When the metal sets, Frankowski carefully colors the soldiers — mostly British Redcoats, as well as fighters from the Civil War, Revolutionary War and others — with glossy paints. Historically, the soldiers' details are very accurate, Frankowski says. Not to mention intricate: Even on tiny, inch-tall figurines, artisans will paint details like eyes and mustaches.

“That's part of the goal: You want to put them in the right uniforms, and you want them to look correct,” he says. Frankowski has been painting military miniatures for about 50 years, and started casting them about 20 years ago.

Frankowski will join about a half-dozen artisans and collectors Sunday at the Woodville Plantation, where they will display their creations for Military Miniatures Day. The military miniatures include hand-painted toy soldiers and war-gaming dioramas depicting North American and European armies from the 18th and 19th centuries. Military re-enactors will perform 18th-century drills and talk with visitors at the event at the Collier-based plantation. This home of John and Presley Neville, built in 1775, captures life during the late 1700s and early 1800s, although the military miniatures come from a broader time period.

The event will hopefully “attract people to Woodville, which I think is a beautiful, neat place,” Frankowski says. “People not familiar with the hobby are amazed at the detail and color. It's like a miniature spectacle.”

J. Lee Howard of Mt. Washington has made painting military figurines his full-time, home-based job. Customers send him bare figures depicting military members from eras including the ancient Roman and Persian empires, the French and Indian War, and even the current war in Afghanistan. Howard paints the miniatures with intricate detail, and returns them.

“It's a real smorgasbord of history,” says Howard, 46, who has painted as a hobby since he was 8. He loves his craft so much that he turned it into his career a few years ago.

“I'd rather paint miniatures than flip burgers; that's what it comes down to,” Howard says. “It's the kind of job that I'd do from anywhere.”

Howard is bringing an Old West diorama scene, with a miniature town and figures, to Woodville. Some of his work is on display at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Paul Mackowick, 51, paints metal military miniatures, along with the occasional nativity scene, as a hobby. The Venetia, Washington County, resident has himself painted about 800 figures, many of which depict 19th-century French, British and Spanish soldiers. Most of the figures he makes stand no more than an inch and a half tall, yet, even the tiny ones may contain up to 40 colors.

“You just kind of get wrapped up in it,” Mackowick says about the painstaking process. “It's a wonderful diversion from the world we live in sometimes.”

Mackowick, who also maintains an outdoor model railroad, will be bringing to Woodville a collection of his European soldiers, which will be placed in a display with landscape scenery, and miniature guns, wagons, civilians and animals to add to the scene.

The craftsman hopes that visitors to Woodville will be entertained, inspired and educated by the military miniatures they see.

“It's not so much showing off,” Mackowick says about his creations. “It's really just introducing something that someone may not have encountered before.”

In past events, visitors have received history lessons, and expressed an interesting in taking up the hobby, he says.

“Maybe they can learn something,” he says. “Maybe I can.”

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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