One of ’s current exhibits, , has captured the imagination of young and old alike — but be warned, you’ll need to budget lots of time if you’re bringing young LEGO fans along. All around the room, echoes of “Five more minutes” and “We can come back later” are heard as children take a last loop around, mesmerized by the work of Fairfield resident Bill Probert.
For this year’s exhibit, Probert partnered with members of NELUG (New England LEGO Users Group) and I LUG NY (New York Tri-State Area LEGO Users Group) to create a 365-square-feet display that fills the SM&NC’s Leonhardt Gallery.
“I asked a member to build a barn — then we thought, “let’s put the Millenium Falcon in it!” Probert said.
That’s the thing about Probert, he knows what children will pick out and recognize, the little details that will keep their eyes darting around the platform, but he also knows how to play to his adult fans. At the LEGO farm, there are pigs escaping through an open gate, horses grazing in a field, an elephant, and an alien from Toy Story. On the other side of town, tiny gravestones in the cemetery are marked with LEGO-themed, pun-filled epithets. A soccer game is in progress and fans fill the bleachers.
“He pays attention to the details — you see the cameraman over the soccer field, someone being taken away in the ambulance,” Rose Portell, curator at Stamford Museum & Nature Center, said.
It doesn’t take long for the children to start coming up to him — "Thank you for building this," “You did a great job.”
“That’s what makes the time worth it,” Probert said. “Some of the older people are in awe and they thank me for making this for their grandkids, that’s really nice to hear.”
Probert began planning for the exhibit about six months ago — figuring out exactly how to maximize the use of the space and using LEGO CAD software to map his creation. The actual construction took about seven and a half days of working around twelve hours a day.
“Families love to come in and see what’s different, a lot come back several times during the holidays,” Portell said. “It’s a really popular exhibit.”
Probert’s LEGO creations first arrived at the SM&NC in 2008 when he participated “Architecture of the Imagination: The Lure of the LEGO Brick.” Even then, he would come in and move things around in his display — building a fan following that would come back to see what was happening in his LEGO universe week after week.
“LEGOs are sold in kits, but 95-98% of this is not from a kit, the parts are from kits, but they aren’t used as LEGO intended,” Probert explained.
What was intended to be the base of a flower becomes scattered weeds around town, the flower bases are also stacked to make taller plants, like the corn stalks at the barn. Platforms for the "Toy Story" toy solders become lilly pads with the addition of a flower bud.
“There have been people who stay here for hours — on Sundays, theres a family that’s been here every week. There’s so much to see, it does keep people here. The motion adds to it too,” Probert said.
The motion comes not only from the main train set, but from a smaller monorail and wind turbines over the city. With the tiniest details accounted for, it would be easy to lose several hours to the display.
Probert began collecting LEGOs when his oldest son, now 19, was small.
"We'd go to Babys R Us and there's always a Toys R Us next door," Probert said. "I'd always end up in the LEGO department. I started buying them before he was born."
While his son has grown up and put LEGOs aside for now to focus on college -- Probert never stopped buying and about seven or eight years ago, he began joining LEGO groups and building larger scale displays. In addition to building just as a creative outlet, Probert dedicates time to building for charities, particularly organizations that fight cancer. Currently in the works, plans for a seven-foot golden retriever for Canuck Place, a home for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, in Canada.
What changes can visitors to the SM&NC exhibit expect in upcoming weeks? Cars and people will continue to move around town. Probert is also planning some changes to the soccer field that will excite young visitors. He also will be expanding on the Christmas theme as the holiday approaches.
"For me, it's just nice to be able to put my creativity out there," Probert said. "To be able to do this in a gallery setting is pretty special."