A fierce army of 300 Spartans stands meticulously at the ready in Petaluma, where craftsman Dean Dizikes displays his tiny — but mighty — handcrafted warriors.
The cast-metal military figures of ancient Greeks are the 73-year-old Dizikes’ “real pride and joy” among the 3,000 miniature soldiers and classical musicians he’s painstakingly created since retiring in 2000 from his 30-year career as an American diplomat with the Foreign Service.
The Spartans, each bearing a golden body outfitted with a crimson tunic and plume headdress, stand in perfect order several soldiers deep. Their colorful shields feature menacing designs, painted in detail.
“The idea was the shield was supposed to terrify the enemy,” Dizikes said. Still, he almost caved in to his healthy sense of humor.
“I wanted to put a yellow smiley face to see if anyone noticed,” he quipped. He decided to keep the army authentic, perhaps in tribute to his heritage.
His father was born in Greece, and Dizikes’ older brother is named Leonidas, just like the immortalized king of Sparta.
Dizikes has a longtime interest in history and classical music, both reflected in his vast assemblage of miniature figures. They are true to detail, with Dizikes researching everything from European invasions to the piano styles of the Classical era.
He’s also handcrafted more than a dozen authentic dioramas to portray scenes for the 2-inch figures, placing dancing Turks at a Greek temple; Mozart performing inside a beautifully appointed chamber; the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace; the cemetery scene from “Don Giovanni.”
Dizikes hand-casts the metal figures, sculpts and files any imperfections, primes, paints and seals each miniature reproduction. Most, like the Spartans, utilize several different molds, each piece glued together.
The 300 Spartans took about 2½ years to complete, with Dizikes spending about four hours a day in his garage workshop. He estimates each figure takes six or seven hours to complete, but finds the work enjoyable rather than tedious.
“As nice as they are individually, they make a nice impression together,” he said of his historical figures.
Although Dizikes says there are “mixed reviews” about his patience level, he admits there’s no reason to get frustrated when a project takes longer than expected, or possibly goes south.
“I’ve chosen to do it,” he said. “There’s no point in getting upset over it if it’s not working.”
Dizikes said the hobby perfectly combines his interests with the satisfaction of creating something from scratch. His background living abroad, visiting beautiful museums and being surrounded by stunning architecture only enhances his work.
He and his family lived in Germany, Greece, Denmark, Malaysia, Canada and Washington, D.C., where he worked at the Pentagon. He and his artist wife Marilyn have lived in Petaluma the past three years.
Dizikes relies on his wife’s eye for design when he puts together his dioramas, sometimes using cigar boxes or assembling three-walled displays measuring 8-by-5 inches and standing 3½ inches tall.
The self-taught craftsman — he insists he isn’t an artist — dedicates about two weeks to the dioramas. Some are larger displays with fancy picture frames as bases.
Creating the scenes “is almost more fun than making the figures,” said Dizikes, who often works while listening to Mozart, his “great musical idol.”