Walking Ship on Exhibit

In the spring I was contacted by the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, Massachusetts, about displaying my LEGO Walking Ship as part of an exhibit – Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen. The exhibit focuses on the incredible kinetic sculptures Theo has designed and built, but also features derivative works by other artists. I was a little concerned about shipping the model, since it is a fairly intricate, but I was really excited for the opportunity to display one of my models in a museum setting.

Land Ship

Since I was traveling for the summer, shipping would have to wait until I got back in September, just a couple of weeks before the exhibit’s opening. Once I returned home I securely packed up the model (or so I thought) and somewhat apprehensively left it in Fed Ex’s hands. Of course this is how it arrived at the museum.

Too Many Pieces

Needless to say I was a little disappointed. Of course it is all just LEGO, and no pieces actually seemed to be damaged, so there was still some hope. I suggested a Skype rebuild session to try and salvage the model, and a few days later spent the morning with Suzanne directing some LEGO triage. It actually worked out surprisingly well. Some of the internal structure was a bit of a mystery (it has been years since I built the model) but it was obvious where all of the large components were supposed to go. Suzanne turned out to be an enthusiastic and competent LEGO builder and, despite the finicky nature of many of the smaller details, she managed to bring the model back to life. Thanks again Suzanne!


I definitely wouldn’t classify the experience as ‘fun’. Trying to explain which pieces go where, over an intermittent quality Skype connection, is a pretty good test of one’s patience. But I actually got to video chat with Theo Jansen himself! He wandered over at some point to see what was going on and we had a good conversation about my model and his work. Here’s a picture of Theo chatting with me (via the iPad on the floor) while Suzanne takes a break from the rebuild.

Meeting Theo

Photo: Chip Van Dyke

And here is the model on display.

On Display

The exhibit actually opens this weekend, so if you happen to be in the Boston area you can check it out until January. The exhibit will also travel to two other museums over the next year.  I’m not sure if the walking ship can handle another round of shipping, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Here’s the full schedule for the exhibit:

Peabody Essex Museum, September 19, 2015 to January 3, 2016

Chicago Cultural Center, February 6 to May 1, 2016

The Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA, May 25 to September 5, 2016