Creating connections, fun with Lego bricks

Nature Connects: Art with Lego bricks

Through Jan. 3. The Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville. Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. $8 adults; $5 for children ages 3-12. Free for children under 3 and for garden members. 1911 Sweetbay Drive. Information: 404-888-4760.

Some people see Lego pieces and think of tiny buildings. Artist Sean Kenney sees a monarch butterfly with an 8-foot wingspan feeding from a milkweed plant.

Four months and 60,549 Lego bricks later, it’s built.

The monarch butterfly, a 5-foot-tall praying mantis and a 7-foot-long lily are among 27 Lego brick sculptures featured in “Nature Connects,” a touring exhibit opening Saturday at the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s new woodland garden in Gainesville.

Placed in 14 installations, the sculptures were crafted from more than 375,000 Lego bricks. Touring since 2012, Nature Connects has more than 50 sculptures using nearly 1 million Lego pieces in its stockpile.

Kenney walked away from a six-figure corporate life in website design in 2005 to become a “professional kid.”

Over the past decade, he has created hundreds of commissioned portraits, models, logos and sculptures using Lego bricks for major corporations and venues around the world. Among his favorite creations is a 50,000-piece city inspired by New York’s Greenwich Village.

One of Lego’s best customers, Kenney goes through about 250,000 to 400,000 Lego pieces every year and currently has more than 3.5 million Lego bricks in his Brooklyn studio.

Kenney answered some questions about Nature Connects and his Lego life.

Q: How do you hope this exhibit touches the adults and children who see it?

A: Fundamentally, the show is about connections. Much as Lego pieces connect, everything in nature is connected in an intricate balance. It is important to me that each individual sculpture attempt to illustrate some of these connections found in nature, whether it’s a fox hunting a rabbit, a hummingbird feeding on a trumpet flower, baby ducklings following their parents on a walk, or squirrels raiding a bird feeder as the birds stand by helpless to stop them. I also love that every single piece I use in my sculptures is commercially available. I only use Lego-issued colors and pieces. That’s the fun of it. I don’t have anything the kids don’t have so the potential is there for a 5-year-old child or a professional master builder to be inspired and create something as intricate as the sculptures in Nature Connects.

Q: What is the world like for a guy who was a “Lego maniac” kid?

A: I get to play with toys and make people smile, what better job could there be? It’s wonderful to see people enjoying the Lego creations I’ve made. It inspires me to build even more cool things. For example, I was fortunate to help create an interactive Lego city for a big toy store, FAO Schwarz, in New York City. It makes me very happy to see kids at the display, smiling, jumping, pointing, and pushing buttons.

Q: What projects are you working on now?

A: Nature Connects is touring the U.S. and abroad through 2020, and we’re always adding new sculptures to the show to expand it and keep it fresh. My eighth children’s book, “Cool Creations in 101 Pieces,” was just released. I used the same exact Lego parts over and over in as many ways as I could imagine. It’s a fun departure from the giant sculptures and feels more like the fun Lego play that I did as a kid and even when I started out as an adult fan.

Q: What’s on your Lego bucket list?

A: I’ve always been fascinated by transportation choices, the disparity between suburban and urban spaces, and the relationship that the car plays in the development of our towns and cities. How big is a Wal-Mart and its parking lot, compared to a European city center? A few years ago, I created a sculpture of the Brooklyn Bridge accompanied by a line of cars 143 feet long, which matched the capacity of a single 30-inch subway train. Everything was built perfectly to scale and based on actual traffic and capacity counts. It was powerful to see how much space all those cars took up compared to a svelte little train, and how clogged the 150-year-old bridge became as it was gnarled with a mess of traffic.