New OMSI exhibit features sophisticated LEGO sculptures

You’ll be amazed – when you see how artists have used these kids’ toys, turning them into much more than ‘Just another brick in the wall’

These Nathan Sawaya sculptures featured in “The Art of the Brick” at OMSI fascinate all who see them.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In an exhibit that goes far beyond merely playing with plastic building blocks, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) just opened a new exhibit called “The Art of the Brick”. This exhibit features large-scale sculptures created exclusively out of LEGO® toy building blocks.

“This exhibit is truly unique,” said OMSI’s public relations manager, Amita Joshi, because “it highlights the intersection of ingenuity, engineering, art, and creativity.  We love showcasing the amazing things one can do – starting with a simple, iconic children’s toy – and making it much more.”

The details of this six-foot-tall Nathan Sawaya sculpture entitled “Green” captivates a visitor’s attention.

As one would expect at OMSI, part of the exhibit is a hands-on demonstration area, where visitors can explore the possibilities of building unique things with LEGO parts.

“Some of the activities include working collaborative mosaic,” explained OMSI Science Hall Senior Science Educator Kirsten Goldman. “We also have LEGO robots that visitors can program and run.”

Kirsten Goldman, OMSI Science Hall Senior Science Educator explains these hands-on activities to a visitor.

A visually stunning section of the exhibition was created by New York based sculptural artist Nathan Sawaya. Raised in Veneta, Oregon, near Eugene, Sawaya attended NYU.

After college Sawaya rediscovered LEGO as an art medium, instead of as a plaything. His stunningly creative framed works, and three-dimensional sculptures, on display are just some of his collection of more than 1.5 million colored bricks.

This LEGO design by “brick-bender” artist Jeff Sanders seems to hover between his hands.

Local artists’ brickwork on display
Portlander Jeff Sanders calls himself a “brick bender”. A glance at his work explains why he chose the term.

“My kids are ten and seven now,” Sanders told East Portland News. “A few years ago I decided to buy my kids LEGOs because I loved them as a child. I hadn’t played with them for years.”

As they were playing one day, Sanders said he made a discovery. “I noticed they sometimes started to curve. I started building circles, intersecting circles, and all sorts of great stuff. Now it’s an obsession – I’ve created more than 100 of these designs.”

The best part for him, Sanders said, “is the joy of creation. I sit down in a pile of 10,000 bricks, start putting them together, and get something I did not expect. It’s an incredible, great feeling.”

Beyond selling his works of art, Sanders said he’s working on a project funded through to produce how-to videos to teach others. “Who knows where to go from here?” he said. To learn more, see his website:

Dennis Newell shows off one of the many original spaceships he’s created with LEGO blocks and parts.

An affection for building Star Wars LEGO models as a kid was what hooked Dennis Newell, another Portland artist whose works are on display.

But, for the past ten years, Newell become more passionate about his model-building. Instead of merely building kits from supplied parts, he now creates his own unique spaceships.

“I’ve built 60 models so far,” Newell said. “I can create make my own battle scenes, and blend in and with the other Star Wars stuff.”

“The Art of the Brick” – an amazing showcase of creativity, innovation, and fine art – is on display only until April 29. The price of seeing the exhibit is included in general admission.

For more information, visit their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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