NDIANAPOLIS — It always starts with one.
Pick a project. Pick a creature. And with a spark of inspiration, big things can happen.
One piece on top of another, they lock together and grow with every addition, spurring wonder and — just maybe — triggering change.
Nestled among the flora and fauna at White River Gardens at the Indianapolis Zoo are attractions of another kind — a dozen wildlife sculptures made entirely of Lego bricks.
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These spectacles — created by Lego artist Sean Kenney and on display at the zoo through September — aim to spark a larger discussion about nature and conservationism. The life-size or larger-than-life sculptures of animals and insects give visitors an up-close look at some of the creatures most in need of attention and care.
Kenney has been creating with the plastic bricks for more than 10 years. He founded Nature Connects in 2012, with the message that just as Lego pieces snap together, everything in nature is interconnected.
All the sculptures in River Gardens at the zoo, except for one, depict endangered species: a snow leopard, the jeweled chameleon, sea horses from a coral reef, a monarch butterfly, and others, said Carla Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Zoo.
Each sculpture features a placard of information about a conservationist who has won the Indianapolis Prize, given annually by the Indianapolis Zoo for work in the field of conservation.
The exhibit aims to inspire but also educate.
The whooping crane exhibit, for example, shows a crane standing over two nesting eggs in the middle of a pond. The Lego brick nest is covered with white dots representing the diminishing population of the endangered bird; each white dot signifies an individual whooping crane left in the world, Knapp said.
Along with information about the depicted species, each display contains fun facts about the work that went into creating it. For example, the polar bear and her cubs, Kenney’s favorite, used more than 133,000 bricks, weighs 622 pounds and took more than a thousand hours to build.
But he has help.
Kenny has a team of 20 in his Brooklyn, New York, studio that includes designers, builders and those who coordinate and install the exhibits.
“Monarch Feeding on Milkweed,” on display in the garden, Kenney said, is the most visually intricate model assembled to date, with more than 160 hours logged just in figuring out how to design the pink milkweed flower.
“I’ve never purchased so many pink pieces in my life,” Kenney said.
The arrangement of sculptures through the garden is based on the natural environment of the animal. The polar bears rest on a bed of blue and white Legos, surrounded by purple and white flowers to represent ice and the sea; the zebra and the wildebeest graze in a grassy area of the garden mimicking the open plains of Africa.
But the exhibit follows no predetermined path, Knapp said.
“It’s intended for you to wander and discover the sculptures naturally,” she said.
Of the 12 sculptures in the exhibit, only the monarch butterfly and the hummingbird have been showcased in other exhibits. The rest were commissioned by the Indianapolis Zoo, Knapp said.
Several of the Lego animals have real-life counterparts elsewhere on the zoo’s campus. Living versions of the zebra, the wildebeest and the polar bear are all in the park; hummingbirds, much smaller than the giant-sized Lego version, can be found flitting around in the desert biome.
Bill Bartley, Secretary of IndyLUG, the Indianapolis Lego Users Group, says the members of his organization are all excited about the Lego exhibit at the zoo. The group has been in discussion with the zoo to provide an interactive Lego feature tied to the exhibit for later in the year, but nothing definitive has been decided yet.
“As fans of Lego,” Bartley wrote in a statement, “we love the brick and are glad to see how Lego can connect to so many different people through such a wonderful institution like the Indianapolis Zoo.”