BY ANGIE JACKSON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Tommy Richardson, 7, left the History Center of Traverse City inspired.
He spent Saturday afternoon at opening day of the Lego exhibit "Building Blocks of America," then planned to make a sign out of the toy building bricks for his grandparents.
"I kinda liked the Space Needle," said Tommy, who added he thought he could build a similar replica of the Seattle landmark if he had enough Legos.
Lego master builder Dan Parker loves to see that spark of inspiration.
"I like to see kids come in and the wheels are starting to go. It might be seeing something that’s unexpected," he said. "The other thing I like is when I see kids go, 'Oh wow, I want to run home and see what I can do.'"
Parker traveled from his Seattle-area studio with Lego versions of iconic American landmarks in tow. Featured pieces include models of the Statue of Liberty, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building. The White House made a return from Parker's more general exhibit last year, which drew 20,000 visitors, history center Executive Director Bill Kennis said.
A 9-foot Statue of Liberty required an estimated 40,000 Legos and is complete with a lit torch. The piece was long featured in the Seattle Center, where Lady Liberty's debut without a solid base made for a close call at a citizen naturalization ceremony.
"After the function a woman leapt over the barrier and grabbed it," Parker said. "I almost had a heart attack. She ran up and hugged it and I thought the thing was going to fall off its rickety little pedestal."
Signs at the history center remind parents and kids not to touch the Lego art.
Parker said each of his 3,500 creations throughout 22 years is special. He appreciates the technical aspects of the craft. Creativity is required to host exhibits that engage kids, and to guide his team of 12 under stiff deadlines for clients such as Google.
Case Brooks, 8, on Saturday helped build a 28-foot replica of the Mackinac Bridge with Scot Thompson and Chris Leach of the Michigan Lego Users Group, which has a few pieces featured in the exhibit. A Lego mountain at last year's exhibit gave Case the idea to make one for his train set.
"He likes to build the sets, but he also likes to take what he’s learned from the sets and apply them in new ways ... . He just loves it," said his mother, Jean Brooks.
The exhibit will be featured throughout the summer. Admission is $5, and kids under 4 get in free. For more information, visit traversehistory.org or call 995-0313.