Latter-day Saint Life

See BYU’s impressive and interactive LEGO exhibit—and learn how it’s connecting generations in love

Lego kids play in playground with their grandmother
“We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter [or brick] into our hands and mold it into something of beauty.”
Ekaterina79/Getty Images

In November 2015, a call came to my office in BYU Library’s Special Collections from a distraught and upset grandmother.

The previous month, I co-curated a small exhibit highlighting Latter-day Saints’ growing interaction with the LEGO building toys. The display featured LEGO recreations of Book of Mormon scenes, Minifigure missionaries, and even Cosmo Cougar as a brick toy.

The center of the display was Dave Jungheim’s highly detailed Salt Lake City temple made from approximately 25,000 bricks. At the time, Jungheim’s sculpture was the most significant and precise resemblance of the temple made from LEGOs. The exhibit ran through October, and on November 1, a new display was installed. Thus, the frustrated call as this grandmother missed the exhibit.

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The Salt Lake Temple featured in the BYU Special Collections LEGO exhibit
Photo courtesy of Trevor Alford

I am not accustomed to being scolded by a grandmother; in fact, that was the first time I can recall ever having been. She was angry at me because she wanted to bring her grandchildren to see the temple and other sets, but I took them down. I completely understood her frustration; I thought it was a great exhibit, too.

We talked briefly; I offered to show her the items we still had in the library and tried to find where Jungheim’s temple would be displayed next. She was disappointed, not for herself, but for the experience she could not give her grandchildren.

That call became important to me. I spend a great deal of time at my job trying to discover and document the modern cultural expression of the Latter-day Saint people.

I do this to create a snapshot and record of what our experience is like today. It is hard not to take notice when someone is so distraught that they missed an experience that it leads them to place a fuming phone call to a stranger. This grandmother’s phone call became the catalyst for proposing a much larger display that would be available for more than just one month.

Latter-day Saints’ use of LEGO and building brick toys as an artistic medium keeps increasing, mirroring the same growth and popularity of the toy manufacturers.

When that phone call came in 2015, Brick’Em Young was in its infancy—having only three temple sets available and exclusively selling online. Now you can find their sets in every Deseret Book store and online. A Latter-day Saint designed LEGO’s Ship in a Bottle set. Dave Jungheim has been commissioned to re-create Temple Square with the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Assembly Hall, and Tabernacle. I’ve even heard about youth leaders using bricks for Church lessons and activities, college courses designing curricula around them, and a prominent business leader crediting LEGO for helping inspire his love of building.

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The Washington DC Temple in the BYU Special Collections LEGO Exhibit
Photo courtesy of Trevor Alford

“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul,” said Elder Uchtdorf in 2008.

As children of Heavenly Parents, to create is to share in our divine heritage. And yet, too often, many of us feel we are not creative. Yes, it can be emotional and difficult, but addressing it, thinking about it, and engaging with others is a creative act. However, all these creations, no matter how big or small, how exact or imperfect, started with a problem to solve: “What do I want to build?” and became an action of creation by connecting one brick to another.

For the last 50 years, one of the most accessible and universally understood means of creation has been the LEGO or plastic brick. Initially created in 1949, LEGO comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, which translates to “play well” in English.

Why are these toy pieces so crucial to creation? Because there is no limit to how they are used or for what they are used, there is no wrong way to create with them. Whether you follow instructions or prefer to “freestyle,” you create something as uniquely designed as you are when you connect two bricks together.

In that same 2008 conference talk, Elder Uchtdorf shared, “We develop ourselves and others when we take unorganized matter [or brick] into our hands and mold it into something of beauty.”

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BYU Special Collections LEGO exhibit
Photo courtesy of Trevor Alford

One unique observation I have seen while working on the exhibit is how eager grandparents are for it to open. Many have contacted me inquiring about the exact hours and days it is open and expressing how excited they are to bring their grandchildren.

From parents, however, I typically hear how excited they are to see it for themselves. One reason might be that LEGO didn’t come to America until 1961. Many grandparents today did not have a chance to play with and develop a personal relationship with brick toys themselves, but rather through their children and now their grandchildren.

Building upon Elder Uchtdorf’s counsel, the desire to see those you love find their own fulfillment in creation can bring immense happiness and perhaps give us a glimpse into the joy our lovingly Heavenly Parents have for us. From this perspective, it is easy to see why so many grandparents have had their hearts turned to their grandchildren through LEGO.

I now better understand that lovingly frustrated grandmother who called me years ago. The exhibit will be open through June, hopefully giving her—and anyone else—the chance to visit and build a creation with her grandchildren.

The Brick upon Brick: Creativity in the Making exhibit will be in the Special Collections of the BYU Library until the end of June 2024. More information on specific hours can be found here. While visiting, we encourage you to create or aid someone else in creating using LEGO and add to the exhibit’s shared creative experience.

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The entrance to the BYU Special Collections LEGO Exhibit
Photo courtesy of Trevor Alford

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