In Portsmouth: LEGO exhibit shows nature’s fragility

Unique Green Animals display will run through Sept. 10

By Jim McGaw
Posted 5/28/23

PORTSMOUTH — The teddy bear, giraffe, elephant and other bushy buddies at Green Animals Topiary Garden have made some new friends.

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In Portsmouth: LEGO exhibit shows nature’s fragility

Unique Green Animals display will run through Sept. 10


PORTSMOUTH — The teddy bear, giraffe, elephant and other bushy buddies at Green Animals Topiary Garden have made some new friends.

Rubbing shoulders next to these displays at the seven-acre gentleman’s farm are now a dragonfly, hummingbird, a Galapagos tortoise, and more — all made out of thousands and thousands of tiny LEGO bricks.

New York artist Sean Kenney's Nature Connects, an award-winning exhibition that uses beautiful works of art made from simple toy blocks to explore animal endangerment, the balance of ecosystems, and mankind’s relationship with nature, will be at Green Animals through Sept. 10.

Fourteen sculptures in all are at Green Animals, which is located on Corys Lane and it managed by the Preservation Society of Newport County. Another one of Kenney’s sculpture, of a Bonsai tree, is displayed inside the Welcome Center at The Breakers in Newport.

“They’re all garden themed, or conservation themed,” said Jim Donahue, the Society’s curator of historic landscape and horticulture. “We’ve gone through the garden and tried to place each sculpture so it suits the particular garden it’s in.”

Signs placed near each sculpture nestled throughout the property inform visitors how many LEGO bricks were used for each, as well as how long it took to build. For example, the dragonfly used 27,788 Lego bricks and took 515 hours to build, while the peacock features a whopping 68,827 bricks and took 625 hours to put together.

But the signs also include talking points about endangered species due to human interactions. 

“Sean’s sculptures bring together a sense of playfulness using LEGOs, but also the fragility of what nature is,” said Leslie Jones, the Society’s director of museum affairs and chief curator. “If you’ve ever played with LEGOs, you know they can be wonderful to play with, but if you put them together the wrong way they can break instantly, which can be heartbreaking. That’s very much what our natural habitat is like, too. While there’s a lot of fun instilled in this exhibition, there are also educational messages about taking care of our natural environment.” 

Jones said the Society is planning “a very robust summer programming” tied to the exhibit. “The outcome of this is not just a beautiful place to come spend time … but also instilling a sense of responsibility with our natural world,” she said.

The exhibit is also an attempt to get more younger visitors to Green Animals, and to attract a wider audience in general.

“This really allows us to put family-forward opportunities at our properties,” said Jones, noting that Green Animals was gifted to the Society in 1972 by Alice Brayton, and has a long history of children enjoying the space with summer parties and other events that Brayton hosted. “We’d like to continue that tradition, and these sculptures are one of the best ways to do that.”

Added Trudy Coxe, the Society’s CEO and executive director, “This is the only northeastern location for Nature Connects in 2023, and we know Green Animals will provide the perfect backdrop for an exhibition that explores so many aspects of the natural world. We cannot wait to see how visitors react to these remarkable and unique displays.”

The exhibit, produced by Imagine Exhibitions, is open daily to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sept. 10. Tickets are available here.

Sponsors for the exhibition include Carol & David Bazarsky, BankNewport, National Trust Insurance Services, Discover Newport, Casey’s Oil & Propane, Donovan & Sons, Inc., Grande Masonry, T.J. Brown Landscape Contractor, Inc., Charter Books, Dr. Brian Melzian and Shamrock Electric.

Preservation Society of Newport County, Green Animals

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.