NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 14, 2012

Together with Legos

At Wenham Museum, building blocks also build community

By Will Broaddus
Staff Writer

---- — By adding one piece to another, Legos can be used to create anything from monsters to towers, from trucks to trees.

The toy building blocks are featured at the Wenham Museum in several exhibits and activities per year, not only because they are fun to play with and look at, but also because they fit the museum’s mission.

“Part of our mission is celebrating popular culture through childhood,” said Jane Bowers, exhibitions curator at the museum. “Pop culture is a big part of what we do because it’s related to childhood and toys, and Legos are the perfect bridge.”

So the museum has added a third program featuring the plastic blocks, “It’s a Snap! Community Lego Art,” which is on exhibit through Oct. 21.

More than 60 unique creations will be on display in an upstairs gallery, which were submitted by amateur and semiprofessional Lego artists ranging in age from 4 to 50.

The show will also include stations with plenty of Lego pieces that visitors can use to assemble their own visions.

Legos were first manufactured in Denmark in 1949, when they were adapted by carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen from a design by Englishman Hilary Page.

Their name is a contraction of the Danish phrase “leg godt,” which means “play well,” and production of Legos in the United States started in the 1960s, according to Bowen.

The Wenham Museum annually features Legos in a train layout, assembled by the New England Lego Users Group, which this year will be exhibited on Feb. 16 and 17.

“They put together a Lego train that fills our entire function room,” Bowers said. “They do that every year.”

The museum also holds a “Lego-Palooza” annually during February’s school vacation week.

“This is basically a Lego-building free-for-all,” Bowers said. “Kids pre-register for that, and we have seatings throughout the day. Basically, it’s come in, sit at a table and use a giant bucket of Legos.”

“The reason kids want to do that is, there’s a community atmosphere to building Legos and playing with Legos with all your friends or new friends you might make when you come,” Bowers said. “In addition to that, we have so many pieces that they might not have at home.”

The communal pleasures of Lego building are one of the main ideas behind NELUG, most of whose members are adults, Bowers said, and several of whom have contributed creations to this exhibit.

“It’s a very social thing,” said Andy Price, a NELUG member who works in information technology at the Holyoke Medical Center.

In addition to attending monthly meetings, members also attend four or five events per year where they can display their creations, and where they usually share space with model train enthusiasts, he said.

When the Lego Store at Northshore Mall in Peabody recently invited NELUG to assemble models for display in their store, 10 or 12 members joined the project, racing with each other to complete their models, Price said.

But in his submission to the Wenham Museum community show, a Tudor house with a subway station running underneath, it is clear that Price, 45, enjoys adding unique touches to his works.

These include a skeleton lying in the subway tracks after a fatal accident and a monkey crawling on the building.

“I do humorous touches, especially if there are kids looking at them,” Price said. “Adults look at an impressive piece of engineering, where kids will say, ‘Look, there’s a monkey or a skeleton.’”

Price, who is originally from Liverpool, England, said his sense of humor favors Monty Python films and TV shows, and he has re-created some of their comic skits with Legos.

“The great thing about Legos is, you can use it so many different ways,” he said, “from really simple things to very complex.”

Bowers was surprised at the variety, but also at the nature of the submissions the museum received for this exhibit.

“I got things I wasn’t really expecting,” she said. “I was expecting more sculptures, and most people created scenes, which I wasn’t expecting, but I’m OK with that. I think it’s great, it’s so creative.”

The sculptural forms at the exhibit include an angelfish and a human skull, while some of the scenes depict a library, an airport where passengers are arriving on trains and boarding planes, and a miniature Fenway Park.

“This is a little bit of an experiment for us, but it’s been a huge success,” Bowers said. “So we’ll probably do it again in the future.”

IF YOU GO

What: “It’s a Snap! Community Lego Art”

Where: Wenham Museum, 132 Main St., Wenham

When: Now through Oct. 21, open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

How:

$7.50 adults, $5.50 children ages 1 to 18, Visit www.wenhammuseum.org or call 978-468-2377.