If you are going to depict the last 13.8 million years of history using only Lego bricks, you still have to start with the ‘Big Bang’.
Assuming ‘Existence’ was only two-dimensional (for a split second, at least) then there it is, in a picture frame on the Music Hall Art Gallery wall. White, yellow, orange and red flat bricks are arranged to resemble a kind of Roy Lichtenstein pop-art cartoon ‘KER-POWWW’. And as nobody was around to see it happen, then the Lego interpretation of what might have occurred is as good as anybody’s.
What it does, of course, is reach young minds that may never have contemplated the Origin of the Universe before; or indeed any other momentous occasions. But seeing the world assembled in familiar Lego bricks captures their imagination and opens doors to future learning. “Brick History is to Shrewsbury Museum what the annual Pantomime is to Theatre Severn,” I was told. In other words, it brings kids in … who may well come back.
It’s also great fun, in a cute kind of way. There are thirty or more tableaux, which represent random historical episodes : from the invention of the wheel to the first mobile phone. And whilst the constructions make you smile, the captions educate. It was 300 years, I learned, before someone thought of turning the potter’s wheel on its edge and attaching it to a chariot. That’s how transportation was born. Whilst kids with the latest smart phones might be shocked to see what their grand-parents used to lug around in their pockets, just to stay in touch. The Lego model of an enormous early mobile phone is alarmingly life-size; a brick ‘brick’, then…displayed side by side with a Lego replica of Alexander Graham Bell’s earliest effort.
On a grander scale, there’s a tableaux of the Chinese Terracotta Army emerging from the earth, which gives a strong sense of how they were regimentally arranged. Only genuine, unadulterated, Lego products are allowed in this exhibition, and Lego have yet to produce terracotta coloured bricks. So the figures are grey and – a touch disappointingly – do not all have individual faces. But I did listen to a father and child discussing the wonder of Chinese civilisation.
In another display case, a white-wigged Lego man is sitting at a brown Lego grand piano in the middle of a bare drawing room with just the most feeble of Lego fires to keep him warm. It’s Mozart composing his last great opera ‘The Magic Flute’. But why was he famous but penniless?
Just past the play area is another exhibition case with a cut-away of a 1920s cinema. The audience are in full colour but the figures they are watching are only in black, white and grey. The film is ‘The Jazz Singer’ … and so the story of the start of the ‘Talkies’ is brought into focus. From the same era, a model of 10 Downing Street has a Lego woman chained to the railings outside, with a Lego policeman brandishing a rather threatening Lego truncheon; which is a great way to engage a child with the current commemoration of suffrage. Teaching tools should be fun!
It is a chap by the name of Warren Elsmore from Edinburgh who is responsible for all this. Since 2012 he has been a full time ‘Lego Artist’ (I kid you not) designing hundreds of Lego constructions for model-maker Guy Bagley to put together. They have to use the same imagination as the children they are designing for to come up with scale representations of such diverse and occasionally esoteric topics as The Boston Tea Party and Athenian Democracy.
But there are local children who can match them all the way. Pride of place goes to Shropshire competition winners who have been equally ambitious. Alfie Hembrow-Forrester should be rather proud of his very authentic ‘Flying Scotsman’ steam locomotive. Lego do do bricks in London and North Eastern Railway livery bright green…and Alfie has given his engine the correct period number – 4472 – and even filled the tender with Lego coal. But there is a stroke of genius about Cal Adlard’s panorama of Pompeii, complete with an erupting Vesuvius and little Lego people; legging it. It’s only small, but it’s a big idea.
Which only goes to prove that you really can do anything with Lego, including educated and entertain in equal measure. And when you’ve been inspired by all the exhibits, there are plenty of bricks to play with yourself.
Just one Golden Rule. No glue was used in the making of this exhibition. So please don’t bump into the display cases.