Children are generally not permitted to play with matchsticks, but nothing could keep Wieslaw Laszkeiwick away from the tiny sticks of wood. Ever since he was a child, building models out of matchsticks has been more than a pastime for the self-taught master. He treats the activity like a prayer. And what he likes to build most are houses of prayer. Now 58 years old, this Polish folk artist works with hundreds of thousands of matches, pieces of cardboard and microscopic slides for several months at a time, creating beautiful replicas of churches around the world.
Laszkeiwick lives in a wooden house with his son, where one of the rooms is used as a workshop. It’s in this room that he spent over 40 years creating detailed structures using matches. One of Laszkeiwick’s most notable works was a replica of the 17th century monument, the Church of St. Nicholas in Zamosc. The completed structure stood almost 5 feet tall and was intended to be a gift to Pope Benedict XVI. What pleased him so much about the St. Nicholas church was its spherical dome. To create the replica, he used almost half a million matchsticks bound on to matching paper. After the building was complete, he covered it with several coats of varnish and special glue that prevents the matches from warping after they are attached. He also mounted a bulb inside to illuminate the intricate stained glass windows, made from hundreds of pieces of glass. Elements such as doors and gates were carved, and a he fashioned a bell out of specially prepared matches. It took him a whole year to complete the project.
Photo: PIOTR STASIUK
The art of making matchstick models isn’t as simple as it might sound. Laszkeiwick chooses his matches with utmost care, because according to him, even one wrong match among thousands can ruin the whole structure. “Not all the matches are suitable, it depends on the manufacturer,” he says. “Some of them cannot be polished, some cannot be formed. You have to know which one to use for forming, which one to use to be polished, which one can be carved – this kind of match has to be soft, has to be from a different kind of wood. Different wood structures meet in matches; you need to know how to sort them. Because if you don’t know your matches, you can use one wrong match and then not be able to polish the whole structure because one match is wrong.”
Laszkeiwick had been in an accident in 1998, which left him handicapped. Even so, his enthusiasm for matchstick structures hasn’t dimmed at all. “It’s a great passion that I’ve had since childhood, and it has stayed throughout my life,” he says. “It’s really appealing to anyone who tries it. It shows you can always achieve new things, and learn new things throughout your life.” His future plan is to make a copy of a Polish castle, for which he needs 3 million matchsticks.