Above: Life sized glasses placed in a miniature scene (credit, MMCLyon)
In the heart of Lyon’s old medieval town lies the city’s Miniature and Cinema Museum. Founded in 2005 by carpenter and artist, Dan Ohlmann, the museum combines two of Ohlmann’s greatest passions: miniature art and cinema. Bursting with character, the museum is located inside a striking 16th century UNESCO World Heritage building known as the ‘Maison des Avocats’. Situated on a calm street, the museum is discreetly tucked away in the building’s quiet courtyard with the collections spread over a number of floors. Although an old estate, the building is entirely wheelchair accessible.
This one-of-a-kind museum is perfect for those interested in the inner workings of cinema, with the cinema collection particularly perfect for lovers of action and science fiction films. The expansive collection is home to numerous cinematic paraphernalia, including the secrets of Superman’s special effects from the 1970s, the strange and wonderful aliens of the Men in Black films, as well as a number of items from the Star Wars series. And yes – they are real! Many of the collection’s items have been procured by the museum from sets immediately after filming. The items are sometimes restored by the museum’s artists and kept in top condition for the purposes of documenting the astounding artistic innovations of the ‘seventh art’.
Those visiting in families should be aware that some parts of the cinema collection are less appropriate for young children. Fortunately, these sections which feature some slightly gorier aspects of film sets and model weapons are clearly marked so that you can make your way through the museum without being confronted by any skeletons, aliens, or monsters!
Whilst the cinema collection is an excellent insight into the exciting special effects, décor, and costumes which are key to the artform, the real charm of this museum has got to be in its strikingly unique miniature collection. While he was working in the theatre industry, museum founder Dan Ohlmann often had to create miniature versions of stage sets before he went on to sculpt the ‘real thing’ at full scale for theatrical use. However, he soon realised that creating the miniatures themselves was an art as intricate and enjoyable as the design and creation of sets themselves. This museum is a testament to this peculiar and impressive art of miniature art, a practice at least as old as the medieval town of Lyon itself. The collection thus hosts a number of the museum founder’s own creations, which can be found amongst the work of other artists. In total, there are 120 unique miniature scenes to discover.
As you work your way through the dimmed rooms of the miniature collection, you are invited to peer into each and every magical window nestled in the walls. Each window, beautifully lit from within, displays a perfect carbon copy of a real scene at an impressive scale of 1:12. Although each scene is static, the miniature artists somehow manage to infuse a sense of life and warmth in each one; so much so that you almost expect to see mini live humans completing each set. From the calming scene of a Japanese temple to a like for like mini reproduction of the famous Parisian restaurant Maxim’s, the remarkable collection houses something for everyone, with the mind-blowing precision and authenticity of each scene sure to be admired by children and adults alike.
Location: Musée Miniature et Cinéma, ‘Maison des Avocats’, 60, rue Saint Jean, 69005 Lyon, France
Admission: for adults, the admission rate is €9.50 with a discounted rate of €8 for those over 60 years old upon proof with ID. For children aged 5 to 15, admission is €6.50, while children under 5 go free. Family, student and other concession rates are available, and admission is also included for free with the Lyon City Card.
Opening hours: 10am – 6:30pm everyday (closed on some public holidays), final admissions at 5.30pm. The museum advises visitors to avoid its busiest hours which are on weekends from 2pm to 5pm.
Covid-specific information: The museum may be closed during this time - check on their website before making plans.
* * *
Lydia Ayame Hiraide is a doctoral researcher in the department of Politics and International Relations at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research thinks intersectionally about contemporary environmental activism in the UK and in France. She can be found on Twitter at @LydiaHiraide.