Build Label Copy



 About the Exhibit

We invited artists to “play” with LEGO bricks—some for the first time. Some built things of bricks, while others painted brick-built things.

We invite you to see their artistic expressions and create your own. You are here to Play, Experiment, Have Fun and to BUILD! Join us at the race track where you can build a car and race cars with your friends. Or, just build your favorite thing from LEGO bricks at a play area.

“American Indian cultures are not static. We do not exist in a vacuum. We are exposed to and gain inspiration from a myriad of sources, including things as iconic as LEGO® bricks. I grew up playing in the wash near my grandma’s house with my cousins—we played with Barbies, army figures and LEGO bricks. LEGO as a company is one built on the foundation that play is a learning opportunity. So, taking American Indian art and ‘LEGO-fying’ it is a great way to bridge aspects of American Indian art so kids can see the universality of other cultures through the lens of something familiar to them.”

—Jaclyn Roessel (Navajo), Heard Museum Education and Public Programs Director, 2013

Gallery Rules

Welcome to Build! By entering this gallery, you agree to comply with the following rules to keep everybody safe while having fun in the exhibit.

1. In case of emergency, notify a gallery attendant immediately.

2. All children 12 years and under must be accompanied and supervised by an adult at all times.

3. Please comply with the suggested age group listed on each activity.

4. Shoes must be worn at all times.

5. Walk, don’t run!

6. No climbing on the tables and artwork.

7. No food or drink in the gallery.

8. Please be courteous to visitors around you.

Last but not least…

9. Have fun!


 Many LEGO® brick artists and Navajo weavers plan their designs before they start to build. Navajo weavers construct a design row by row, but first they have to see in their mind what the design will look like when it is finished. After they imagine the whole picture, some weavers draw the picture, while others just keep the image in mind. Weavers plan how an image full of color, motion and depth can be transformed into a textile made out of single strands of yarn on a flat and fixed plane. Any event or scene in the hands of a talented weaver becomes a woven story.

Marlowe Katoney based his Angry Birds—Tree of Life textile on the video game and a classic textile design. Dave Shaddix then designed a LEGO brick mosaic based on Marlowe’s textile.

“Weaving is like designing a video game, and I think it also applies to LEGO bricks. More so with LEGO bricks than video games, you are designing from the ground up on gridded planes. Your warp strings make up the vertical plane and your weft makes up the horizontal plane.”

—Marlowe Katoney (Navajo), 2014


 Navajo weavers have been making pictorials for more than 150 years. Pictorials are the only style that allows the viewer to have a sense of hearing a story and share with the weaver an observation of the world or a witty thought. Although the style and the subject matter have changed over time, the basic loom has not changed. The picture is still made by weaving colorful yarns over and under fixed foundation fibers.

Interview with Marlowe Katoney

How did you get the idea to use Angry Birds as a theme?

MK: I had the Angry Birds application on my cell phone. I wanted to make a contemporary statement that addressed the impact of contemporary culture on something traditional, especially a traditional design like the tree of life. It is also about my family. My aunt has a garden and gives away vegetables at harvest. That year, I didn’t make it to the giveaway. “Angry Birds–Tree of Life” expresses my sentiments about that.

Did you have any fun surprises while weaving this piece?

MK: Surprises happen all the time with weaving. Because some aspects are still very new to me, I’m compelled to try new things. Trying new things almost always ends up with an unexpected, often beautiful product.

How long did it take to make this?

MK: I started this work in August of 2011 and finished in October 2013.

Marlowe Katoney

Navajo, b. 1976

Angry Birds–Tree of Life, 2012


Heard Museum Collection

 Fun Fact!

It took Marlowe Katoney 241,500 stitches to make the Angry Birds—Tree of Life textile.

It took 57,444 LEGO® bricks to make the Angry Birds mosaic.


 Dave Shaddix designed this mosaic by using a computer program to convert a photograph of Marlowe Katoney’s Angry Birds—Tree of Life textile into a grid pattern. The grid was separated into 56 different sections, based on the size of a standard 10-by-10-inch LEGO® base plate. Marlowe joined Dave and more than 60 volunteers to build the mosaic piece by piece. Each volunteer placed 1 x 1 LEGO bricks on a base plate following the templates created by Dave. Fully completed, this mosaic contains 57,344 individual LEGO bricks!

 Interview with Dave Shaddix

How do you plan a mosaic design?

DS: I started by using graph paper and colored pencils. Now I use a computer and Photoshop. I take a photograph and then simplify the image. I stylize the design, put it on a grid and map it. I have LEGO® colors on a palette that I use in the design.

How many hours did it take to design the Angry Birds mosaic?

DS: I probably spent more time than usual, because initially I went into detail to make it look like a rug and had about 50 to 60 hours in that. Then, I was asked to simplify it. In all, it was maybe 70 to 80 hours of design time.

 What tips do you have for working with LEGO bricks?

DS: Follow the LEGO set instructions once, and then build stuff on your own. Use your imagination. Also, the LEGO store sells a brick separator that takes the bricks apart nicely and saves the teeth and fingernails.

 Dave Shaddix (designer)

American, b. 1975

64 Volunteers (builders)

Angry Birds mosaic, 2014

LEGO® bricks

Dave Shaddix led the volunteers who included Marlowe Katoney, Heard Museum Guild and Heard Museum staff members.

Heard Museum Collection


Mosaics are one way a LEGO® builder can use LEGO bricks to tell a story. Mark Mancuso and Joel Hornbeck planned a huge mosaic based on the first Action Comics cover. Then Mark and his daughter Mia built the mosaic. Similarly, Jason Garcia uses a comic book theme to tell stories of Pueblo life and history on ceramic tiles.

Interview with Mark Mancuso

How long did it take to build this mosaic?

MM: It took about 50 hours for Joel and me to design the mosaic using CAD (computer-aided design); then it took about 100 hours for Mia and me to build it.

Did you encounter any fun surprises while building this piece?

MM: The biggest thing with the initial layout was that we did not realize the enormity of the size of it.

Is it more fun to make a model or a mosaic?

MM: Doing sculpture is a different perspective. With a mosaic, you are actually bringing a picture to life; with models, you are taking bricks and transforming them into something. Once the design is done for a mosaic, putting it together is fairly easy, whereas with models or sculptures there is a lot of trial and error.

What tips do you have for building with LEGO bricks?

MM: A lot of sets require different techniques. When you look at the instructions, take those techniques and apply them to something else. The beauty about LEGO is you can take things and make something else. Ask yourself, “What creative thing can I do with this?”

 Mark Mancuso and Joel Hornbeck (designers)

Mark Mancuso and Mia Mancuso (builders)

American, b. 1966, b. 1977, and b. 1998

Action Comics #1 Cover (June 1938 issue)

LEGO® bricks

Collection of the builders

Fun Fact!

Constructed with more than 55,000LEGO bricks, this mosaic weighs around 400 pounds.


LEGO-te is the LEGO® brick coyote designed and built by Steven Yazzie and his 4-year-old son Wyatt. While they were building, Wyatt made certain that LEGO-te had a heart, a stomach and something to eat.

Painting is a way to tell a story using brightly colored paints. After Steven and Wyatt built the LEGO® brick coyote, Steven made LEGO-te a main character in his painting. LEGO-te gazes at a real coyote who sits on a chair inside a house but looks outside.

Interview with Steven Yazzie

Why did you make Lego-te’s ears move?

SY: Articulations are cool, and many new LEGO brick sets include pieces that move when clipped together. Wyatt and I thought if we could use these pieces in some area where the figure (coyote) would normally bend or move, we could add a little more style to the sculpture. We actually have three other places where Lego-te is articulated. Both front legs and the tail can be adjusted slightly.

Why do you paint coyotes?

SY: I’m interested in Coyote as a subject of possibility, one whose complex history and relationship with humans over time has shaped a number of perspectives: the mischievous instigator and antihero from cartoons, the invasive species challenging the livelihood of rural ranchers and farmlands, the symbiotic and elusive creature on the periphery of human civilizations, and the backyard ornamentation painted in pastel colors. The Coyote is also the seminal figure/character found in many indigenous mythologies throughout the Americas, whose disposition is one of a mischievous nature.

Fun Fact!

Lego-te, the LEGO coyote, was constructed using bricks from 3 different themed LEGO brick sets. Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Sponge Bob kits.

Steven Yazzie

Navajo/Laguna Pueblo, b. 1970

The Gazer, 2014

Oil on canvas

Gift of the Heard Museum Council

Steven Yazzie and Wyatt Yazzie (designers and builders)

Navajo/Laguna Pueblo, b. 1970 and age 4

Lego-te, 2014

LEGO® bricks

Heard Museum Collection

Building With Beads

Works created with both LEGO® bricks and beads are comprised of small pieces that are put together to make a larger work of art. Beadworkers carefully select beads by color and size to build a design stitch by stitch. Designs can be geometric patterns or pictorial images inspired by nature or even pop culture. Beadworkers can choose to sew the beads in straight lines or curve and stitch strands of beads to form something round, like a flower petal. When finished, the small, round beads form a perfectly textured surface. A talented beadworker can make any picture or design out of beads.

“When I start planning an item I want to bead, I picture it in my mind, but I don’t imagine it as beadwork. I have an idea first of a scene or a person, and I know the amount of detail I can capture. I make collages of photocopies and then assign gradations of color. Once that is planned, it is almost like ‘bead-by-number.’

“There are similarities between building with LEGO bricks and beadwork. I was a math major in college before switching to art. Some of my artistic work comes from a need to organize. I played with other building kits before I switched to beadwork. Also, I have a huge collection of LEGO bricks because I indulged my child with them.”

—Marcus Amerman (Choctaw), 2014

 Autumn Dawn Gomez (designer and builder)

Comanche/Taos Pueblo/Navajo, b. 1987

Untitled, 2014

LEGO® bricks

Autumn Dawn Gomez

Comanche/Taos Pueblo/Navajo, b. 1987

Moonflower Deluxe Crown, 2013

Hama beads

Collection of the artist

Autumn Dawn Gomez with Paul Frank Industries

Comanche/Taos Pueblo/Navajo, b. 1987

Eternal Cosmos, 2012

Hama beads

Heard Museum Collection

 Marcus Amerman

Choctaw, b. 1959

Miss Rock Creek, 1986

Glass beads

Heard Museum Collection

Unknown artist


Crown, about 2000

Silver, turquoise

Heard Museum Collection

 Stephanie Goff (designer and builder)

American, b. 1978

Jeweled Tiara, 2014

LEGO® bricks

Collection of the artist

 Stephanie Goff (designer and builder)

American, b. 1978

Jeweled Crown, 2014

LEGO® bricks

Collection of the artist

Interview with Jason Garcia

Q: Why do you choose the comic style to express cultural observances?

A: I’ve always been intrigued with the way that comics and graphic novels are able to tell stories. I use the comic themes to educate myself and other Pueblo youth about Tewa creation stories, migrations and Pueblo historical events.

Q: How long does it take to make a tile (from clay to firing)?

A: On average, it takes about three to four months from start to finish. Traditionally dug clay has a processing time of one to two months. I am on constant lookout for mineral pigments, and I am constantly experimenting with different colors. It normally takes one week-plus for me to create a tile or pot; this includes forming, drying/curing time, and sanding. Painting with mineral pigments usually will take one to two weeks. I typically work on two to four pieces at one time. The last step of the creation process is the firing, which sets the color.


From the 1970s to the 1980s, cruising down Phoenix’s Central Avenue was a typical Saturday-night event. Teens drove cars of all types, but those that stole the show were the lowriders. What is a lowrider, you ask? It is a car that has been modified in some way to make it ride lower to the ground than the original design. Initially, drivers put sandbags or bricks in the trunk to lower the car. Sometimes smaller tires were put on the back of the car. Most often, hydraulic pumps and valves were installed that allowed the driver to change the height of the car with the flick of a switch.

Lowriders entered the scene in the 1940s and increased in popularity from that point on. Los Angeles paved the way, but lowriders were also popular in Phoenix starting in the early 1960s. Lowrider Magazine’s First Annual Arizona Lowrider Happening took place on April 4, 1979, south of Phoenix on the Gila River Indian Reservation. Thousands of people came from Arizona, Texas and California for the event.

Today, Central Avenue does not have the lowrider traffic it once had. But lowriders and other specialty cars can be seen at featured car-club events in Phoenix and other cities across the U.S.

Interview with Lalo Cota

Why do you use cars as a theme?

LC: The reason I love to use cars is because it was through cars that I discovered art!

Your cars seem to have personalities. How important is that to you?

LC: I try and mimic the personalities of the owners of the cars by only drawing the car. It’s important to me to capture their personality, because I believe that’s how the public will be able to relate to my work.

How long does it take to paint a mural?

LC: The time it takes to complete a mural varies. If I use spray paint, it could take a couple hours or days, depending on size. If I use a brush, it could take a few days or even weeks.

What is the serpent design on the car?

LC: I use a serpent or rattlesnake in my car design because snakes move low and slow on the ground, just like the cars I draw.

Lalo Cota

Mexican-American, b. 1974

Cruising Central, 2014

Lalo Cota

Mexican-American, b. 1974

Desert Cruiser, 2014

LEGO® bricks

 Nathan Sawaya (designer and builder)

American, b. 1973

Captain America, 2011

LEGO® bricks

This piece was inspired by the Harley-Davidson motorcycle in the 1969 film Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and featuring Jack Nicholson. It was filmed along the famed Historic Route 66, beginning in Los Angeles and traveling through Arizona and New Mexico.

Courtesy of Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum Permanent Collection

Viewer Challenge:

Which Arizona city was a filming location for the movie Easy Rider?

Flagstaff, Arizona.

How many LEGO bricks do you think were used to construct the motorcycle?

More than 12,500.

Sean Kenney (designer and builder)

American, b. 1976

Bicycle Triumphs Traffic, 2011

LEGO® bricks

Collection of the artist

This bicycle triumphs over a traffic jam of cars, reinforcing the Earth-friendly concept of “going green.” Sean Kenney constructed the bicycle while a crowd of 5,000 adults and children gathered, many of whom helped build the cars.

Viewer Challenge:

Can you guess how many LEGO bricks it took to make this?

About 37,000 for the bike and about 75,000 for the cars.

Dave Shaddix (designer and builder)

American, b. 1975

Model of the 1929 Heard Museum Courtyard, 2014

LEGO® bricks

Heard Museum Collection

Corey Gehman (designer and builder)

American, b. 1967

Model of the old Maricopa County Courthouse, 2012

LEGO® bricks

Collection of the artist