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UCLA alum Henry Lim creates life-size masterpieces out of Legos

COURTESY OF HENRY LIM
Henry Lim’s life-size Lego sculpture of Queen Amidala.

By Vy-Vy Dang-Tran

Jan. 31, 2011 11:34 p.m.

COURTESY OF HENRY LIM
One of Henry Lim’s larger Lego sculptures of a stegosaurus. He has sold dozens of similar sculptures and his works are displayed in museums all over the world.

UCLA alumnus Henry Lim still plays with Legos. In elementary school, the hobby meant making sculptures of small cars and figurines. Now, it means having a 14-foot-long Lego-saurus and a fully-playable Lego harpsichord in his living room.

“It’s more like a workshop,” Lim said of his apartment, which is filled with hundreds of thousands of Lego bricks organized by shape and color.

By day, Lim can be found in Schoenberg Hall, where he works as a technical services assistant for the UCLA Music Library. He said that although there is a small subculture of adults who pursue the same hobby (albeit most on a smaller scale), Lim said he does not consider himself primarily a Lego artist. Lego art is just one of his many passions, including photography and playing the piano, guitar and drums.

“Henry is his own person. He follows his own muse,” said Callie Holmes, Lim’s co-worker at the UCLA Music Library.

Holmes said that the Lego harpsichord in Lim’s apartment impresses her the most out of Lim’s pieces. For research, Lim checked out books from his work to ensure that the instrument would be functional. A few obscure musicians have asked to play the harpsichord during concerts, but Lim said that the time required to tune and calibrate it keeps even himself from playing often. Since Lim only glues together what he has to ship out to buyers, the instrument is also very fragile.

“People forget that they’re Legos; they’ll lean on (the harpsichord) as if it was a real instrument,” Lim said.

Lim hesitates to devote his entire career to professional Lego-building because he said being required to build might take the fun out of it, but there is no doubt that these enormous plastic projects have earned him much recognition.

It all started in 1999, when Lim saw “Star Wars: Episode I ““ The Phantom Menace.”

“I felt nostalgic and started to remember what being a child is like,” Lim said.

But being a child when you have the resources and abilities of an adult has vastly different consequences. After discovering a competition to build Star Wars characters out of Legos, Henry bought more than 55,000 Lego bricks and constructed a life-sized statue of Queen Amidala. The piece won him first prize for best large scale model in 1999.

Lim said, however, that he has since taken apart Queen Amidala.

“I didn’t know how valuable it was at the time,” Lim said. “Now she’s in the dinosaur,”

Lim’s sculptures have been displayed in museums and trade shows all over the world, including Chicago, San Diego, New York and Finland. In September 2005, the Hong Kong Science Museum commissioned Lim to recreate four mind-bending lithograph prints by M.C. Escher.

Lim’s most popular requests are turning family photographs into large Lego mosaics, which run for about $1,000 and take him a month to complete.

Kanae Matsumoto, lecturer and pianist in the UCLA Music Department and friend of Lim’s for three years, called Lim a “Lego genius.” On her desk stands a miniature Lego piano, a gift from Lim.

“It looks like just a toy, but it’s actually very detailed,” Matsumoto said.

But, true to the spirit of his toy medium, Lim insists that the attention he receives for the end product is not what he loves most.

“For me the fun is building, not finishing,” Lim said. “(While I work) I can just sit there listening to music and drinking a beer.”

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Vy-Vy Dang-Tran
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