Lunch with the dolls at Avalon Restaurant

ERIE, Pa. — The plan was to see the Erie Art Museum exhibit that honoured one of Erie’s favourite sons, Wilbur Adams, an architect, industrial designer and drunk known for dreaming up some pretty slick tractors and some pretty sexy skyscrapers.

But in the end (and thanks to a preschooler who doesn’t really appreciate the whole museum experience yet) I didn’t get to spend a lot of time checking out Adams’s work.

Instead I stumbled after Jilly, stammering when she, while standing in front of some post-apocalyptic dream in oil on canvas, said: “Tell me the story of that picture.” And I ducked in and out of a bizarre tunnel made of squares of pulsating light with an undertone of white noise combined with a whistling that wasn’t quite high enough for only dogs to hear. And I frequently said, “Don’t touch that! Look with your eyes!”

erie art museum

And then, thankfully, I laid my eyes on the Avalon Restaurant.

Now, I love a good diner at the best of times, so imagine my relief when, at one of my worst times (this whole parenting thing is really hard, you know), I stumbled upon this snapshot of diner life lovingly sculpted by dollmaker Lisa Lichtenfels.

Each figure, at one-third of life-size, takes about one month to create. Lichtenfels starts with a wire skeleton and builds on it till she makes it to the nylon body and handpainted eyes, fingernails that are real enough you can imagine them scraping along a chalkboard. In this permanent exhibition, the Erie native has re-created a scene from her time as a (not very good, she admits) waitress.

Lisa Lichtenfels Avalon 1


There is a woman in too-small shorts leading her beau to a table in the back. There is an exhausted mom, too tired to stop her son from bothering a customer while her baby sleeps on the table. There is an eager watch salesman who doesn’t look too honest, and a guy farther down the counter who might be a labourer or might have just gotten out of prison. There is a Mennonite man with his daughter and a lady in her housedress overwhelming the entire diner with her big mouth.

Lisa Lichtenfels Avalon 4

And there is the artist herself, having just spilled coffee grounds behind the counter. Dolls in the likeness of her former bosses—a husband-and-wife team that ran the now-closed Avalon beside the Erie bus station—are exasperated, but that’s what they get for hiring an artist anyway.

Lisa Lichtenfels Avalon 2

It’s worth the admission ($5-$7) just to see the Avalon Restaurant tucked away on the second floor. Go without kids and see the rest of the museum, too, including the Adams exhibition (but hurry, because that ends in a couple of weeks). The ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum is just around the corner.

Lisa Lichtenfels Avalon 3



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