It is not everyday that you can sight-see some of the world’s most iconic buildings standing next to each after watching an interstellar battle between rebels fighting to maintain the Republic against the forces of the evil Empire, but the Lego Exhibition now on at the Sidney Museum offers precisely this sort of imaginative escape.
The exhibit returns to the museum for its 14th year with additional display cases and a lot more models. “Many of them are new this year,” said Peter Garnham, executive director. “Many of people, who have been here in previous years, are really surprised and pleased that is fresh and new.”
At the same time, it has been become a regional tradition, said Alyssa Gerwing, assistant executive director, drawing in local school groups travelling by bus or fans coming from the Lower Mainland.
A break-down of the numbers is truly impressive: up to 800 models. One million bricks. And if last year’s visitor figure of some 12,500 visitors over three months offers any guidance, the show promises to be another smash. But what these numbers fail to capture is what Lego can mean to those who play with it, starting with Garnham, who owns the majority of the models, along with his two sons.
This year’s collection also includes models from two mother-daughter teams, a son-mother team, and from two volunteers, added Gerwing.
Garnham’s love affair with putting together little pieces began as a child, when he assembled Meccano sets. “In the 1980s, when my boys were young, we bought [Lego] sets for Christmas and birthdays and so on, because they are a wonderful gift and it just expanded from there. They would be getting more and more.”
This personal collection then started to assume a professional element with the start of the Lego exhibit 14 years ago. Since then, Garnham and his boys have been continuing to buy sets, mainly for the show. “We enjoy building them, but then they go into the show, and then it enhances the show.”
So what continues to draw Garnham to Lego? Its complexity and the pleasure of realizing this complexity, he said. “It’s like a giant puzzle,” added Gerwing, pointing to Lego’s Technic models as formidable building challenges. “That to me is enjoyable, putting it all together,” he said.
This love for Lego has now passed to Garnham’s two grandchildren. “I generally play with them to some degree,” he said. “We might see them once every couple of weeks, and once we have given them a Lego set, and then go around again, it’s built, it’s ready. But always with my two boys, I would definitely be on the floor, playing with them, building things, breaking something down, building something different and new.”
Lego has changed over the years, moving away from boxes with generic bricks to more purpose-built model sets, often tied to popular movie franchises.
Garnham, for his part, comes down on the side of the specific model sets. “I think we prefer doing that, so that we have a finished product. In buying and building it, it is with the idea of putting it in the show,” he said.
This said, it depends on your purpose, said Gerwing. Some parents cannot afford to buy specific models costing hundreds of dollars for their children. So the museum exhibit gives everybody a chance to see them in their finished state, said Gerwing.
On other hand, the museum last year donated more than 60,000 to School District No. 63 with the idea to encourage kids get into engineering and creativity, she said.
“It wasn’t for any specific sets, but for kids to build with them,” she said. The exhibit pays tribute to this spirit with a Duplo set for children at the museum’s entrance. “It’s one of the highlights of the exhibit,” said Garnham.
It also includes a four-and-a-half-foot tall rocket launch tower that Garnham built from scratch, without plans, over the course of 100 hours. It then took him another 10 hours to rebuild it after it had tipped over as he was preparing to move it.
But Garnham was sanguine about it.
“Oh, it is fine when you drop it,” he said. “You build it for a second time.”
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