Carlo Spirito of Saco stands beside a diorama of a railroad at his home workshop on Friday, Jan. 10. His work is on display through January at the Saco Transportation Center. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — You look once, and then you look again, and again, each time seeing more detail in the small scenes on display.

At first glance you see the figure of a woman posed on balcony, then your eye is drawn to the pot of flowers on the windowsill. You see the train moving on the track, and then your eye moves to the roof of a building – where each of the terracotta-type tiles is made by hand.

In fact, just about every facet of Carlo Spirito’s artwork is crafted by hand, from the figures of people and animals, to the flowerpots, to the tiles and the tools on the workbench in a diorama of a scooter repair shop.

The work is intricate, the figures lifelike in how they’re positioned, their expressions, everything about them. A street side scene of 1950s Rome shows tea towels drying in the sun on the balcony, and a man having a snooze in a chair outside his door, his hat low over his eyes to shade him from the sun.

A portion of a diorama crafted by hand by Carlo Spirito of Saco shows a woman on a balcony and a man snoozing in the sun in Italy. His work is on display at the Saco Transportation Center through January. Tammy Wells Photo

The street scene piece in his Saco workshop — and the dioramas on display at the Saco Transportation Center — are just a part of the work of Spirito, a retired biological scientist who taught human physiology in university graduate school programs and medical schools, including a 27-year stint at the University of New England. His work included the study of movement and robotics, and his resume is extensive.

Spirito started tinkering, as he calls it, when he was a 9- or 10-year-old boy growing up in Connecticut.


“I always loved to tinker and build things — I got that from my Dad,” he said during an interview at the train station last week. “I had model airplanes, but found out they’d crash on the first flight, so I switched to railroads.”

Railroads and scale models, sculpture, robots, a rolling ball machine, and, on display at the train station, dioramas — three dimensional models of various scenes — like a Vespa scooter being repaired in an Italian shop, a café and more, are among his works.

A first-generation American, Spirito’s roots are in Italy, and he has visited the country many times. His dioramas often depict Italian scenes, like the café, or the street scene on display in his workshop – and as he says on his website, his work focuses on the daily lives of everyday workers.

Carlo Spirito of Saco pauses beside his rolling ball machine, one of his works in many media – that also includes dioramas, sculpture and more. His dioramas are on display through January at the Saco Transportation Center. Tammy Wells Photo

His experience with model railroads — detailed scenes of locomotives moving on tracks complete with buildings and people going about their business — led to outdoor, garden railroads. His background in human physiology helped as he crafted people and animals, both small scale and in his sculptures of porcelain birds, hands of working people, and a new work called “Procession to Lhasa,” a sculpture of a group of seven Tibetan Buddhists taking part in a procession to the holy city, some raising their hands toward the sky in prayer, others prostrate.

Then there’s the rolling ball machine, which, he said, he didn’t draw out beforehand — he just started building, adding features as he went along. The first half of the machine takes the balls on an imaginative course up and down and around; part two is in progress.

At one time Spirito, who makes his own figures, cast and then sold them at the encouragement of his friends. Nowadays, he makes them for his own enjoyment.


“I frequently pick up a model railroading magazine and spot one of my figures (in a layout),” he said.

These days, the railroads are inside, as  the Spirito’s now have a different home, with less garden space, but the “tinkering” goes on.

He does it, he said, to keep busy.

“I get bored easily,” he said.

Spirito has sold some of his sculptures in galleries, and maintains a website:, where people can explore his work. He is looking for another gallery where he can showcase his three-dimensional art.

Recently, his work appeared at the Steampunk event at the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk and he was part of the York County Mini Makers Faire in Biddeford.

A month ago, Spirito had eye surgery, and is now enjoying the vibrancy, richness and brightness of color that had been dimmed by cataracts.

“I feel inspired again to do more of it,” he said of his work.

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