A Navajo Tapestry Made of Angry Birds and 57,000 LEGO Bricks

A Navajo Tapestry Made of Angry Birds and 57,000 LEGO Bricks

Lee Allen

The nice thing about creating art is there are no boundaries … no restrictions on concept or medium, as evidenced by the latest exhibit at the Heard Museum in Phoenix called BUILD! Toy Brick Art, a display that USA Today called, “One of the 10 Must-See Museum Exhibits this Summer.”

On display through September, the show is an amalgam of American Indian and non-Native LEGO brick art.  No oil on canvas or pastel watercolors.  Just artistic expression in the form of LEGO blocks (Leg Godt in the original Danish, meaning "play well") and this collection does both in the form of art and whimsy.

RELATED: First Nations Student Creates First Lego Wampum Belt

Artist Dave Shaddix has been playing with LEGO bricks—named twice as "Toy of the Century"—since he was a kid.  Once his own children re-introduced the 38-year-old to the concept, “it spun out of control,” he says, with four of his LEGO-ized creations in this show as featured artist.

The centerpiece: Shaddix's version of the pictorial textile Angry Birds Tree of Life by Navajo artist Marlowe Katoney.

"Although I’ve built kachina dolls with LEGOs before, they received mixed feedback in Hopi villages," Shaddix says. "But this show was the first time I had a chance to convert a living artist’s work, taking his vision and medium and transforming it into something completely new, a 70- by 80-inch toy brick mosaic. I redrew original weaving, pixel by pixel, on my computer, creating over 50 ten inch sections which were ultimately assembled by 60 awesome volunteers who turned the concept into a creation.  Something this size would typically take me a month to build alone, but the volunteers built it in three hours.  I had a blast watching the textile artist react, and interact, with the LEGO-ized version."

Katoney wove Angry Birds Tree of Life two years ago in a 23- by 26-inch format. It was inspired by his aunt’s vegetable garden, and the fact that he always got there too late to pick her fresh produce. "It depicts culture, a reflection of everyday life with a nod to the video game of the same name—a tree weighed down by round, red birds with angry faces," he says.

The LEGO-ized Angry Birds Tree of Life is about 70" by 80", and consists of 57,400 LEGO bricks, according to the Heard.

Other Heard LEGO artists include Steve Yazzie (Arizona Navajo) with a coyote sculpture and a LEGO-brick crown made by New Mexico’s Autumn Dawn Gomez (Comanche/Taos Pueblo/Navajo).

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Serious students of the LEGO arts should be aware that once the Heard display closes, an "Art of the Brick" exhibit in London will open with 75 sculptures made from over a million LEGOS.  Included in that show is a 20-foot-long tyrannosaurus rex created by Nathan Sawaya, the first artist to bring LEGO bricks into the art world.

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