It’s a LEGO World at the Missouri Botanical Garden

Monday June 30, 2014

You might have seen a preying mantis or a monarch butterfly at the Missouri Botanical Garden in the past but you’ve never seen them like the ones that have taken up residency in the Climatron®recently.

They are larger-than-life and made of plastic c®bricks. YLego Butterflyes, LEGO® bricks, those cute little interlocking blocks you might have played with as a kid or your child plays with today.

In probably one of the most unusual exhibits ever at the Garden, 25 nature-inspired sculptures in 12 installations are now on display in an exhibition called Nature Connects: Art with LEGO® Bricks.

The number of LEGO® pieces used to construct the sculptures is absolutely mind-blowing—more than 300,000 in the entire exhibit.

Outside the Climatron®, visitors get a preview—a life-size Roto-tiller (60 inches x 31inches x 31 inches) —of the sculptures they will see. It took some 20,903 LEGO® pieces to build.

Among the sculptures inside the Climatron®:

  • A majestic bald eagle (29 inches x 30 inches x 59 inches) built with 42,198 LEGO®pieces
  • A beautiful monarch butterfly on a milkweed (48 inches x 41 inches x 53 inches) built with 60,549 LEGO®pieces
  • Giant preying mantis (24 inches x 59 inches x 60 inches) constructed with 42,167 LEGO® pieces
  • The whimsical Birds vs. Squirrels at Feeder. It took 8,586 LEGO® pieces to build that one.
  • Pileated woodpecker (9 inches x 9 inches x 21 inches) built with 4,424 LEGO® pieces
  • Milk snake (40 inches x 40 inches x 9 inches) and mouse (12 inches x 12 inches x 7 inches) constructed with 12,069 LEGO® pieces.

The sculptures are the handiwork of award-winning artist and best-selling authorSean Kenney who says he owns two million LEGO®pieces.

Kenney doesn’t work for the LEGO® company. He just loves to use their blocks in his artwork.

Lego BirdBecause of his building proficiency, enthusiasm and professionalism in using its products, the LEGO®company made Kenney its first LEGO® Certified Professional ever—that’s someone officially licensed by The LEGO® Group to engage in commercial activities involving LEGO® products. There are currently only 12 LEGO® Certified Professionals in the world.

Kenney’s sculptures in the Nature Connects exhibit were pre-built with regular LEGO® pieces, epoxied together and delivered to the Botanical Garden for the exhibit.

“They came in these specially built crates which was really kind of interesting to me,”Garden spokeswoman Holly Berthold said. “They filled in (around the sculpture) with packing material and then built a crate around it because you can’t just throw a sculpture into a box and expect it to get here.”

Your visit to Nature Connects isn’t over when you exit the Climatron® after viewing the exhibit. You then enter the Brookings Interpretive Center, where you can create your own masterpieces with LEGOs®to leave on display in the center.

LEGOs® aren’t just for kids, as the folks at the Garden are finding out.

“It’s been kind of neat to see guys in their 20s and 30s kind of revert back and remember how much fun that (playing with LEGOs®) was for them and have an excuse to sit down and play again by “helping”their kids,”Berthold said. “They are actually having as much fun as their 7-year-old kids.”

Visitors who are inspired by the exhibit may want to go home and create their own nature-inspired LEGO® creations. Send a photo of your creation to the Garden’s website or social media channels and it might be chosen to compete in the Buildtanical Challenge Finalson Saturday, July 12 at the Garden. Nature Connectsexhibit artist Sean Kenney will choose one winner in each age category. Prizes will be awarded to the winners. Hurry, though—photos must be submitted by June 30, 2014.

LEGO PrymattusThe LEGO® exhibit will be at the Missouri Botanical Garden through Sept. 7. It’s open the same hours as the Garden—9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. There’s an additional charge beyond Garden admission for the exhibit.

For St. Louis visitors who have never visited the iconic Climatron®, it’s a must-do experience. The Climatron®, opened to the public in 1960, is a fascinating structure in its own right. Basically a massive climate-controlled greenhouse, it was designed with principles developed by architect and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller who invented the geodesic system which uses no interior support or floor-to-ceiling columns. The Climatron® was the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory.

A visit to the Climatron® is like a walk in a lush tropical rain forest—a rain forest with more than 2,800 plants, including 1,400 different tropical species. Visitors will see banana, cacao, coffee, orchids and rare exotic plants like the double coconut which produces the largest seed in the plant kingdom. According to the Botanical Garden’s website, visitors to the Climatron® encounter dense green foliage, a small native hut, sparkling waterfalls, rocky cliffs, a river aquarium with exotic fish and a bridge from which the forest canopy can be viewed.

The Climatron® design was developed by St. Louis architects Murphy and Mackey. It won the 1961 Reynolds Award, an award for architectural excellence in a structure using aluminum. In 1976 the Climatron® was named one of the 100 most significant architectural achievements in United States history.

Guest Blogger Kathie Sutin a freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri contributed to this blog.

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