Lego T-rex and scores of other brick sculptures free to see in Tampa

Eliana Goldberg, 5, of Wesley Chapel gapes at Nathan Sawaya’s sculpture Everlasting at the “Art of the Brick” exhibit Friday. At top, Patricia Joline of Land O’Lakes hugs a pole at a Lego street art exhibit called Hugman.
Eliana Goldberg, 5, of Wesley Chapel gapes at Nathan Sawaya’s sculpture Everlasting at the “Art of the Brick” exhibit Friday. At top, Patricia Joline of Land O’Lakes hugs a pole at a Lego street art exhibit called Hugman.
Published June 24, 2017

TAMPA — Envision the effort that went into building a basic Lego model with your kids. Now imagine arranging the same toys to look like the Mona Lisa or an 80,020-piece Tyrannosaurus rex.

Visitors can see both at the "Art of the Brick," a free Lego-themed art exhibit that opened Friday in downtown Tampa.

After a popular "Beach" ball pit in 2016, the Vinik Family Foundation, led by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, has sponsored another summerlong, kid-friendly exhibit.

This one contains more than 100 Lego sculptures by famed New York lawyer-turned-artist Nathan Sawaya.

The Viniks, visiting the display Friday morning, said they had seen Sawaya's exhibit about six months ago and quickly took advantage of a gap in its touring schedule.

"I think that the pictures we saw just didn't do it justice, because when you walk in, it's just mind-blowing that what you're looking at are all made out of Legos," Penny Vinik said.

The feeling was echoed by Nylah Williams, an 18-year-old from Augusta, Ga., on vacation with her brother and dad.

"There's a lot of creativity and thought put into it," she said. "It takes a lot of skill."

By 2:30 Friday afternoon, organizers counted 1,540 visitors. Most were children. Kids in bright green sneakers and baseball caps leaned on 3-foot-tall tables. One tapped a sculpture's Lego chin.

Two 8-year-old twins from Maryland, Daniella and Jacob Mellman, visited the gallery with their grandmother.

"We both like building with Legos, so we wanted to see what other people had built," Jacob explained.

Both agreed their favorite piece was Moai, an imitation of the famous, long, stone heads found on Easter Island. The gray sculpture stood in front of orange and yellow lights.

"I like it because it's big," Daniella said.

Even bigger was a Tyrannosaurus rex "skeleton," made entirely of light tan blocks. As wires suspended its long tail, the figure's mouth gaped at many kids' eye levels. One girl scowled back.

Another, Jaida Valdez, 10, of Tampa called the T. rex her favorite as she arranged blocks at a small white table with her little sister, Trinity.

"It was big, and I liked that (the artist) could spend all that work doing a dinosaur," she said.

But there's plenty of smaller artwork, too.

"Every time you walk through, you see something new," Jeff Vinik said.

Those glancing at a small television showing a video of Sawaya building might not notice, for example, a tiny Lego rodent hiding in its shadow. A guide, Mary Santos, said the smallest piece Sawaya has done was a "tree," comprising one green block atop a brown one.

Details like that make it hard for exhibit representatives to say exactly how many works there are, but the program boasts at least 100.

After getting through them all, the Valdez sisters spent their time sticking block after block to gray boards in "The Brick Yard," the last room in the building and the clear highlight for most kids. The "Yard" features bright white walls and several bins and tables for kids to design their own masterpieces. Hand sanitizer dispensers and a choking hazard warning sign mark the entrance.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

As parents perused the gift shop or pushed strollers, young visitors built bridges and bedrooms. One, at least temporarily, put down her fidget spinner.

Standing among the 50 or so children and their chaperones was Santos, the guide. The Riverview woman, a Vinik Family Foundation employee, said she was assigned Friday's shift but was thrilled to be there for the exhibit's first visitors.

"It's a treasure on opening day," she said.

She remembered playing with Lego blocks with her two daughters, the elder of whom is now 38. "It's very relaxing," she said. "We had like thousands."

She said she rotates between working at the "Art of the Brick" and Amalie Arena but that hanging out with kids playing with blocks isn't much of a burden.

"This is the one job that I don't work at," she said.

Contact Langston Taylor at Follow @langstonitaylor.