When Hanukkah begins Tuesday, Lisa Pierce’s family will light her grandmother’s menorah, a family heirloom that looks like a traditional candelabrum with nine branches.

Then, just for fun, she’ll light a dinosaur menorah. Or a hippo. Or a penguin.

Pierce’s menorah menagerie consists of her own playful creations that she sells mostly through her Etsy.com shop, The Vanilla Studio. The most popular is “Menorasaurus Rex,” a fierce-looking Tyrannosaurus Rex, but she also makes other dinosaurs (a brontosaurus and a triceratops), as well as an elephant, alligator, turtle, hippo and yes, even a not-so-kosher lobster.

The menorahs, made from repurposed plastic toys, are sold in the Jewish Museum shop in New York and, Pierce says on her Etsy page, come from “the crazy notion that people can have fun and be Jewish at the same time.”

Pierce, who works out of her Portland home, spends a lot of time making religious art with the children at her synagogue, Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland (which also sells her work).

“A lot of that is trying to figure out how to make Jewish things out of nothing, or found objects,” she said.


She made her first dinosaur menorah for a friend who had just converted to Judaism and was a big fan of dinosaurs. She made a couple more for special events, and the rest is, ahem, prehistory.

Pierce buys the toys wholesale and paints them a shiny silver or gold, then adds brass candle fittings to their backs and heads with screws and super glue. She will do custom orders in other colors, but “the gold is just so silly,” she said. “It’s elevating a dinosaur into this gorgeous shiny holiday thing, which is part of the fun.”

Her customers range from grandparents who think their grandchildren will get a kick out of a dinosaur menorah to menorah collectors who want to add something a little different to their set.

“My goal is to make it playful and accessible,” Pierce said. “If I can add something to someone’s holiday celebration, that’s amazing. That’s a wonderful feeling.”

Pierce’s menorahs, which cost $85, have been featured in Newsday, Family Circle and the New York Post.

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