Meet ‘Mr. Lego’: Wesley Higgins’ McWane Science Center model captures children’s imaginations

Meet ‘Mr. Lego’: Wesley Higgins’ McWane Science Center model captures children’s imaginations
Lego mania has come to the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, thanks to Lego creator extraordinaire Wesley Higgins, who made a to-scale replica unveiled in the center March 10. (Donna Cope / Alabama NewsCenter)

There’s something oh-so grand about a miniature.

A replica of the McWane Science Center, made completely of Lego® blocks, is taking children’s and adults’ imaginations by storm. Indeed, Wesley Higgins’ model of Birmingham’s McWane Science Center and the old Loveman’s Department Store is taking the fascination with Lego to new heights.

That was the scene when Eli Parker spied the small version of the McWane Science Center in the building’s lobby.

“This is awesome!” the 7-year-old proclaimed. “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen. It’s so cool!”

In awe and fascination, Eli walked around the display several times. He looked carefully at all the Lego characters, cars, Van de Graaff generator and other details of Higgins’ creation. Several “oohs” and “ahhs” commenced. When Eli found out that the maker – Higgins – was within standing distance, he hurried to the creator’s side.

“You did a great job,” Eli told Higgins, with an admiring “thumbs up.”

That’s the consensus of hundreds of youngsters and families who visit, said Katie Baasen, director of marketing and communications at McWane Science Center.

“Wesley Higgins did this replica so perfectly,” Baasen said. “It’s definitely a hit. Both the children and their parents are loving this. Kids run up and want to touch the display. It’s under glass, but they can’t help but want to touch it. It’s a beautiful replica of our McWane Science Center.”

Within the next few months, the center will sponsor a contest in which children can win a prize by correctly guessing how many Lego bricks were used to construct the model.

Lego McWane Center was a year-long labor for Alabama Power official from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

McWane’s new, exciting go-to exhibit for children

Like other children visiting McWane Science Center, Eli was amazed by the model.

“How’d you do this?” asked Eli, a second-grader at Highlands Elementary School in Dothan. The outing was for Eli’s seventh birthday, said his mother, Amy Seton.

“It was a treat to come here today,” Seton said. “We went to the Lego store at the Galleria and they said this display was here, so we came by to look. Eli just got a 4,000-piece Lego set for the “Ghostbusters” house. He’d saved all of his birthday money, and bought that today.”

Seton said that she’s glad her son enjoys building Lego creations.

Alabama Power Vice President and McWane Science Center board member Gordon Martin (left) was among supporters of Higgins’ (third from left) efforts. (Wesley Higgins)

“It makes them focus and follow instructions,” she said. “The concentration and skills you develop with Lego help you as an adult. My husband said he’s a helicopter pilot now because he played with Lego as a kid. It’s that step-by-step learning that’s so important.”

Higgins, the online and operations support manager at Alabama Power’s corporate headquarters, spent about a year working on his creation.

A gift from Norman and Kelli Jetmundsen made the project possible.

Higgins made the display after receiving a request by McWane Science Center board members Gordon Martin, Norman Jetmundsen and Lamar Smith. About 18 months ago, Higgins met with them, where he received architectural drawings for the project. Later, he created a mock-up display.

“I worked on it off and on, often at night with my family gathered around the living room, and on the weekends,” said Higgins, an admitted Lego aficionado. “A lot of times, I worked on it as my family was watching TV.” The display was on a living room table that Higgins purchased specifically for the project.

Higgins was present to supervise the installation of the heavy display at McWane on March 11. Volunteers gingerly transported the model in sections. It took about two hours to piece together the sections, which McWane Science Center employees placed under glass for protection.

For the love of Lego

Higgins’ entire family are Lego fans. The family has attended the annual Lego BrickFair Convention for six years. When the 2016 BrickFair came to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, the Higginses were there.

“I have four boys and they all love building with Lego,” Higgins said. “My wife, Christy, was very supportive. My second child, Patrick, helped build the Lego dinosaurs, the Tesla coils and the Van de Graaff machine for the replica.”

The Higgins boys’ enjoyment doesn’t end there: Jonah likes Lego video games; Caleb likes Lego dinosaurs; Patrick likes Lego custom superhero characters; and Thomas Earl likes the Lego Hero Factory, which is similar to robots.

Higgins admits he carried his childhood hobby into the adult world, starting with the birth of his first son 17 years ago.

“I enjoyed Lego when I was growing up, but I gave that up when I went to college, then I got married,” said Higgins, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry at UAB, and later returned for his MBA. “Lego fans call the time when they aren’t building with Lego their ‘Dark Ages,'” he added, grinning.

It was a thrift-store find that rekindled that “first love” for Lego.

“I found a Lego pirate ship for $6.88,” Higgins remembers. “It was one of those sets that I had wanted as a child, but never purchased. It was missing a few pieces, which I found on a website called BrickLink. Today, the set is on a shelf in my office. It’s worth about $150.”

Bringing iconic Birmingham vistas to life

The McWane Science Center is Higgins’ fourth to-scale replica.

In the past few years, he has created models of well-known Birmingham buildings such as the Alabama Power Corporate Headquarters and the Alabama Theatre, which won “Most Iconic” award at BrickFair in 2013. Higgins made a mobile electric substation that was bought by PG&E. In 2011, he made a to-scale version of the Monroe County Courthouse in Monroeville to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee‘s famous novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

He donated the courthouse model to the Alabama Humanities Foundation, and it set off a bidding war at the foundation’s auction.

“The courthouse model was purchased by a judge for $1,200,” Higgins said. “Once the judge started bidding on the model, the other lawyers stopped bidding because they didn’t want to upset the judge.”

Lego look at Higgins’ future projects

Though Higgins is busy at work and with his family, he’d love to someday try his hand at creating a miniature version of Vulcan, Birmingham’s famous cast-iron man atop Red Mountain. So long as Higgins has children at home, he won’t be giving up his Lego parts. He and his son, Patrick, are already planning out their next build, Batman’s Arkham Asylum.

“I think that Lego is a good stress reliever,” Higgins said. “It’s kind of a hobby that takes you away from the everyday stress of life, to relax and let go. I enjoy the time – it allows me to express my creativity.

“I’ve been able to connect with my kids and other kids, and to talk about what they’re building,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve built sets as a family. So, for us, it’s also a way we spend time together and enjoy our life together.”

Click for more of Higgins’ creations.

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