May 27th, 2016

Behind the Scenes at Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks

Preview Photos of  Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks

Bison and Conservatory

On Monday, our first day of installation, we had sunny, sunny skies. It was a beautiful day and we managed to get over half of the Nature Connects LEGO brick sculptures installed.

Today is the start of opening weekend for Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks exhibit! We’ve got some really engaging activities planned (scroll to the bottom for a full listing) but we figured what better way to introduce this exhibit to you than to give you a behind the scenes look at how we literally piece it together (pun intended).

There’s no doubt that Sean Kenney is a remarkable artist.  His award-winning Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks exhibit is booked years out and is known for attracting a very enthusiastic audience.  The man must dream in LEGO bricks. Kenney starts by crafting his sculptures on LEGO-brick shaped graph paper, and after much planning he builds the creation with a team of helpers. Each piece has an internal structure built with steel rods and plates, and each piece is glued individually.

People are crazy in love with LEGO bricks! This exhibit is incredibly fun, and has allowed our staff to grow in new ways too.  We’ve learned how to cart sculptures in around in giant crates, and on the backs of golf carts. We’ve discovered how to suspend a 60-pound bumble bee in mid-air! And we’ve mastered the installation of LEGO brick sculptures in water (on a very rainy 50-degree day no less).  We’ve also been inspired to create our first Facebook Live post and reach out to new audiences on Periscope (with participants from as far away as Poland and Russia). In case you missed it, here’s the Facebook Live post:

Laurel Matthew, our multi-talented Greenhouse Horticulturist, LEGO brick fan extraordinaire and Nature Connects exhibit coordinator, started the day by maneuvering a tractor to unload the 18-wheeler truck that brought the exhibit to Richmond. Sidenote: Matthew’s  tractor driving skills are incredible! Her speed and agility with the big orange tractor were impressing everyone.  On day one we were blessed with beautiful sunny skies, and we managed to get over half of the 27 Nature Connects LEGO brick sculptures installed. We knew what was coming next: rain, and lots of it.

Sean Kenney's Nature Connects arriving via tractor trailer

Sean Kenney’s Nature Connects arriving via tractor trailer. Laurel Matthew, the exhibit coordinator, used a tractor to unload the museum-quality crates.

In case you missed it on Twitter,  this is how you get a giant LEGO brick butterfly to “fly” into the Garden. A similar maneuver was used for the giant LEGO brick rose in the next photo.

Nature Connects LEGO brick rose and kids

We never miss an educational moment. Can you sense the enthusiasm of the boy with his hand raised?

One of the best parts about the sculpture installation was the children who spotted us working and rushed right over. Children’s Garden Manager Kelly Riley and Matthew didn’t pass up a learning opportunity for the kids and immediately started asking them questions.

installing giant LEGO brick rose in the Rose Garden

The biggest rose of all in the Cochrane Rose Garden. You can’t miss it!

Reiman Gardens in Iowa originally commissioned Sean Kenney to build the sculptures in Nature Connects for their garden several years ago. Arlen Throne and Dennis Senne, installers from from Reiman, traveled to Richmond to help install the show. In the photo above you can see them working with our horticulture team to get the placement of the rose just right.

On day two of installation the thunder storms and rain came. So we waited until the storms turned to drizzled and the team persevered.  We figured what better day to install sculptures in the water than when we are already wet!

Ryan Olsen taking off his shoe before installing nature connects sculpture

Ryan Olsen taking off his shoe before installing nature connects sculpture. Dennis Senne, in the red jacket, looks on. Laurel Mathew and Steve Chisum hold the water platter sculpture in the background. They use wooden pieces to carry the sculpture so it doesn’t break.

Ryan Olsen, seasonal gardener, Laurel Matthew, Stephen Chisum, Operations Assistant

Seasonal gardener Ryan Olsen, Ops Assistant Stephen Chisum and Laurel Matthew, adjusting the stand of the water platter sculpture so it appears to float on the surface.

Seasonal gardener Ryan Olsen, Ops Assistant Stephen Chisum and Orchid Horticulturist Laurel Matthew, who is also the Nature Connects Coordinator.

Cold and rainy? Nature Connects Coordinator Laurel Matthew, asks seasonal gardener Ryan Olsen and Ops Assistant Stephen Chisum to hold on just one more minute.

On the morning of day three of the installation we got this email from Matthew: “Wowzers, what a rainy Tuesday. Nevermind that, the installation goes on!” Her enthusiasm and positivity can not be stopped!

After the installation, I asked her to reflect on the experience.  “Despite rain, our three-day Nature Connects installation was a smooth, enjoyable undertaking. How could it not be, when we were equipped with a perfect combination of pieces – the experienced, sage guidance of Dennis and Arlen of Reiman Gardens; the capable, patient help of Stephen from Operations, Ryan from Horticulture, and Kelly from Education; the beautifully maintained gardens and prepared sculpture locations courtesy of our horticulturists and gardeners; and amazingly detailed and eye-catching signage courtesy of our signage team. All that plus countless other incidents of encouragement, support, and smiles from Garden staff and volunteers combined to build an amazing installation experience! It’s true, I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

And so it begins: Everything is Awesome. …and everything is cool when you are part of a team.

LEGO lily pads with tree house

Three of the five lily pad water platters in place in the West Island Garden. The CWDkids Tree House is in the background. The Nature Connects installation all came together with the perfect combination of “pieces.”

Opening Weekend

 Friday, May 27 – Sunday, May 29    

  • LEGO Users Group Train Show in the Library and Kelly Education Center, open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Volunteer docents will be on site to interpret and help guests.
  • Library open extended hours – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Opening weekend only. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.)

Saturday, May 28

Special Ongoing Exhibits

We’re celebrating all things LEGO bricks!  Share your favorite photos inspired by America’s favorite connecting bricks of our Nature Connects exhibit, tag your photos #LEGOutside and you’ll be entered to win a prize package. See all the details on our #LEGOutside contest page

Also, mark your calendar for Flowers After 5: Family Fun Night with LEGO® Bricks and the outdoor LEGO Movie! 

Walk and Talk: Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks  | June 28 OR July 12 OR August 4

Join your expert Guide for a tour of discovery and experience the 14 displays of playful sculptures crafted from nearly half-a-million colorful LEGO® bricks. (Click on date above for more detail and to register).

Remember our LEGO brick build area opens in the Children’s Garden on June 1!

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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