'Nature Connects' LEGO exhibit back by popular demand


Reiman Gardens staff members (from left) Marianna Overgaard, Zach Johnson and Sharon Rink, along with exhibition installer Arlen Throne (wearing white hat), install wings on a dragonfly sculpture. A new exhibition featuring 13 LEGO sculptures opens April 23. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Thirteen new, nature-inspired sculptures made from 500,000 LEGO bricks will reside at Reiman Gardens April 23 through Oct. 31 during the gardens' second "Nature Connects" exhibition. The first show, featuring 27 sculptures, debuted in 2012.

See the exhibit

Reiman Gardens is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (until 6 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day). Admission is $8 ($4 for youth; free for members, ISU students and children 3 and under).

Created by artist Sean Kenney, the colorful sculptures reflect the gardens' 2016 theme, "Color," and generally range in size from three to eight feet. Sculptures include:

  • Birdbath with Birds, Bees, Squirrel
  • Bonsai Tree
  • Corn Spider
  • Galapagos Tortoise with Darwin Finch
  • Gardener and Grandchild
  • Herd of Deer
  • Hummingbird on Trumpet Flower
  • Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed
  • Pansy Bloom with Bee
  • Peacock
  • Photo Opportunity Face Cut-out Mosaic
  • Roseate Skimmer Dragonfly
  • Wheelbarrow with Tools

A profitable venture

The first "Nature Connects" exhibit was the brainchild of Reiman Gardens' staff and former director Theresa McLaughlin. The 2012 show was so successful that McLaughlin left the gardens' director post in 2014 to manage "Nature Connects" fulltime and drive funds to Reiman Gardens for future improvements.

Since then, the exhibit has crisscrossed the United States, making stops at public gardens and zoos in North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Colorado and Canada. McLaughlin said the Dallas Zoo's attendance increased by 43 percent while hosting "Nature Connects," and the Denver Zoo saw a 12 percent increase in visitors.

"The exhibit emphasizes the importance of nature, but it has a lot of different levels to it," McLaughlin said. "It speaks to the entire family."

The venture has been a financial success, too, so far earning about $5 million from 60 leases scheduled through 2020. McLaughlin projects that Reiman Gardens will receive more than $3 million from the project by 2020.

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