A Day Away: Muscatine Lego built brick by brick


MUSCATINE – A vibrant and colorful temporary exhibit at the Muscatine Art Center was built one brick at a time, until after 3,202 hours New York artist Sean Kenney assembled 321,680 LEGO bricks into 17 linked creations to the natural world.

One of the most awe-inspiring feats of math, engineering and the challenge of gravity is this 9-foot LEGO sculpture of a hummingbird drinking from a trumpet flower, on display until February 20 in the “Nature Connects ”at the Stanley Gallery of the Muscatine Art Center. (Diana Nollen / The Gazette)

It’s a world in which a fox stalks a rabbit; a hummingbird drinks from a trumpet flower; goldfinches congregate at a bird feeder; a rubber duck; a gardener weeding the ground; four portraits of parrots; and flashing lights, theater marquees, a video screen and busy people in Times Square.

“Nature Connects” will be on view until February 20, for free, in the Stanley Gallery linked to the Muscatine Art Center, a historic house-museum at 1314 Mulberry Ave., in the middle of a residential neighborhood where old and new architecture live side by side. rating.

If you are going to

What: Sean Kenney’s “Nature Connects” sculptures, made with LEGO bricks

Or: Stanley Gallery, Muscatine Art Center, 1314 Mulberry Ave., Muscatine

When: Until February 20, 2022

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday; closed Mondays and public holidays

Admission: To free

Information: muscatineartcenter.org/

You’ll definitely need to consult a map app to get there, about 68 miles southeast of downtown Cedar Rapids and 36 miles southeast of downtown Iowa City. Due to the snowstorm in early January, I chose to take I-380 to I-80 east, then route 38 south.

When I reached town my app took me through an industrial area where, lo and behold, I found out that Heinz Tomato Ketchup is made with muscatine. Who knew? In fact, several of my Facebook friends had relatives who worked there, and one of them had a grandfather who grew tomatoes for the Heinz factory in the 1930s or 1940s.

When I reached the art center, I parked across the street, unaware that a parking lot is accessible from Cedar Street behind the museum complex. And that’s where I made a big mistake. Instead of turning around and leaving the path I arrived at, I set up my map app to head north out of town. This led me to Tipton Road, where the app didn’t say the hard surface would end, leading me through endless miles of gravel where blowing snow covered more than half the road. As a farmer, I have done worse, but I do not recommend taking this route. On the positive side, the gravel eventually connected to the Moscow road, so now I can say that I saw two Moscow on different continents.

Nature connects inside

Since 2012, Kenney’s award-winning LEGO sculptures have toured the world, stopping at botanical gardens, arboretums, zoos and science centers, most of which are outdoors, including several installations in the gardens. Reiman to Ames. Five sets of sculptures are currently on tour, including that of Muscatine.

Many of the pieces are larger than life, like the 9-foot-tall hummingbird sculpture on the ground floor of the Stanley Gallery, while others are in miniature, like the Times Square diorama downstairs. The lawn mower appears to be life size.

The common thread between such diverse subjects revolves around the question: just as LEGO bricks are interconnected, how is our natural world interconnected?

Bringing the exhibit to the Art Center was no easy feat.

“The staff looked at the LEGO exhibit a few years ago,” said director Melanie Alexander of Iowa City, who has worked at the museum for just over nine years.

A bequest in 2018 allowed the board of directors to consider a “higher level” exhibition like this one.

“The art made of LEGOS, with a nature component, appeals to families in the Iowa-Illinois area,” noted Alexander.

Various staff had seen versions of Kenney’s LEGO exhibits at the Reiman Gardens in Ames, the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., And on trips to Florida, so they were quite familiar with the art – as is usually seen. outside.

“We were thrilled when an exhibit was developed for indoor venues,” said Alexander.

Since the museum typically plans exhibitions over several years, officials have had time to raise additional funds as well. Alexander declined to say how much it cost to bring the exhibit to the art center, but said, “It cost four to five times the amount of most exhibits for us. It took several years of budgeting to put it in place.

The fact that entry to the art center is free, while most of the sites that host these LEGO exhibits charge a viewing fee, added to the fundraising momentum, Alexander noted.

But it paid off. Even though the Art Center was closed for a short time during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance continued to decline as the pandemic progressed.

“This exhibit brought (the museum) back to life,” Alexander said. “It opened in mid-November and in the first few weeks we ran drop-in tours each year to Jefferson and Franklin Elementary schools in Muscatine, as well as activities at home, at the school. school and for youth groups. So we have been busy in several ways. “

The museum’s free entry policy also means that children who see the exhibit on a school excursion can bring their whole family back to share in the fun. Local youth have also been invited to submit their own LEGO creations which will be displayed in the hallway leading to the Stanley Gallery. Submissions ranged from ages 3 through high school, and the exhibitions were a big hit with young visitors.

“Small children get excited when they see and recognize things on the screen, like Unikitty,” Alexander said. “We are delighted to show the things they have done.”

Adults will also find something to pique their interest in, especially the way that when you step backwards the surfaces look smooth, but when you get closer to the ropes you can see the intricacy of the placement of the 3D bricks. Additionally, the carvings are simply whimsical and fascinating, and all signage will teach readers about the status of animals, their role in nature and fun facts, as well as the role human and inanimate objects play in connecting with the nature.

This is definitely a family exploration, for all ages, as is the museum in the adjacent house.

On the afternoon of January 4, parents with children, from toddlers to upper elementary, strolled through the LEGO exhibit halls, which include a photo cutout and play stations. they went upstairs from the house to the Learn to Look gallery on the second floor, featuring hands-on projects designed for kids. Along the way, the living room was still decorated for the holidays, with a large display of old toys on the floor, beaming from the tree.

Manor Museum

The Musser Mansion was built in 1908 as a wedding gift from Peter Musser for his daughter, Laura Musser McColm and her husband, Edwin McColm, who were married in 1903.

The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and later this year the Japanese Garden at the site in 1930 will be rehabilitated at an expected cost of $ 225,000, funded by grants. Alexander said it was the only pre-WWII Japanese garden in Iowa.

Peter Musser made his money running sawmills and banks, and Edwin McColm owned the largest dry goods store in Muscatine.

Laura Musser McColm, active in investments and family businesses, kept the books for her husband’s store and ran his affairs after his death in 1933. Laura was a mezzo-soprano who studied music in Chicago and Paris, and she Edwin is listed as the founders of Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant. In 1954, she received an honorary doctorate in music from the Iowa Wesleyan and served on the board of directors until her death in 1964.

In 1938, she married William T. Atkins and moved to Kansas City, but retained ownership of her Muscatine mansion. Alice, her daughter with Edwin, died shortly after her birth in 1907, so Laura’s daughter-in-law, Mary Catherine Atkins McWhirter, and Laura’s niece, Mary Musser Gilmore were her heirs. After his death, the women donated the mansion to the city of Muscatine and created a trust for its upkeep.

The Musser Mansion opened as a Muscatine Art Center in 1965, and Laura’s portrait hangs in the reception hall. The house, furnished in Georgian Revival style, has 12 bedrooms, as well as large central halls on the first and second floors. They are filled with items from the permanent collection, from paintings of the Mississippi River to works by Georgia O’Keefe, Marc Chagall and a drawing by Vincent van Gogh. The rooms also feature glass collections and temporary gallery exhibitions with works by local artists.

The Stanley Gallery was built as a separate stand-alone facility in 1976 and in 1983 a main entrance, called The Linkage, was created to connect the gallery to the house museum.

The contemporary gallery and sculpture garden are named after donors C. Maxwell and Elizabeth Stanley, who also donated part of their art collection to the now named University of Iowa Museum and Museum. by Stanley, in tribute to the late Richard (Dick) and Mary Jo Stanley, who pledged $ 10 million towards the new UI museum building in 2017. The couple died later in the year, unless ‘a month apart. Hancher’s Stanley Cafe was named in their honor, and last year a sculpture was installed at the Muscatine Art Center in memory of Mary Jo.

With the Stanley family legacy spanning Iowa City and Muscatine, Alexander said “it’s like we share the same DNA.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; [email protected]

“The Gardener” contains 37,497 LEGO bricks and took 320 hours to complete. (Diana Nollen / The Gazette)

This rubber duck is one of the LEGO sculptures on display until February 20 at the Muscatine Art Center. It contains 23,234 bricks and took 120 hours to build. (Diana Nollen / The Gazette) (photographed January 4, 2022)

This Times Square diorama, complete with video and flashing lights, contains 22,000 LEGO bricks and took 300 hours to build. (Diana Nollen / The Gazette)

The main body of the Muscatine Art Center is housed in the Musser Mansion, built in 1908 as a wedding gift from Peter Musser for his daughter, Laura Musser McColm and her husband, Edwin McColm, who were married in 1903. (Diana Nollen / The Gazette)


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