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The Cincinnati Museum Center has exhibited the artwork of Mark Clark several times, earning swaths of publicity for its displays of his huge replicas of the city’s stunning Music Hall and famous Roebling Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge prototype that spans the Ohio River and carries drivers between Ohio and Kentucky.
Clark’s use of Legos to make the replicas of such important historic architectural landmarks at 1/50th scale adds to the public’s fascination with them, especially because he takes great pains to build them to portray their original state and to tell their stories.
“It’s all about storytelling and using Lego as a medium to do that,” he said.
Early last year, Clark climbed in his car and drove four hours across the state to scout his latest creation, the Kirtland Temple, the first temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (See photos below.) Church scriptures note the temple’s central importance and beloved place in the faith’s Restoration story: 185 years ago, Jesus Christ, Moses, Elijah and Elias visited the Kirtland Temple.
“This particular piece is an origin story,” said Clark, who is not a member of the church. “It is an origin of an entire faith, which actually weighed very, very heavily on me this whole time. I want to do the piece justice. I want to do it right. It’s something that is so important for a large swath of humanity. This was not going to be my ugly kid. I wanted this to be the most beautiful piece that I’ve ever done, because it’s so important. It’s as if someone were to do the stable in Bethlehem and try to be historically accurate as it would have been in the moment. There was no way in the world I was going to settle for, ‘That looks fine.’”
Clark’s Latter-day Saint friends, impressed by his two dozen or so previous pieces, told him that the original Latter-day Saint temple was in Kirtland, Ohio. When he saw the building, which the church no longer owns, he felt compelled to tell its story, even after he took out his measuring wheel, walked the property and realized the measurements and colors would complicate a Lego project.
Clark’s Roebling Bridge is 32 feet long. His Cincinnati Music Hall is 10 feet wide and 11 feet deep. They are a far cry from the rescue helicopter his mother gave him in Cincinnati’s children’s hospital when he had his tonsils out in the second grade. He said he aged out of Legos after he got his driver’s license, but his mom and ex-wife reignited the passion eight years ago when they bought him the Death Star and Millennium Falcon from the “Star Wars” movies.
He pulled out his old sets, brushed and restored and polished and shined each brick and reassembled them. The Battle of Endor was his first landscape not based on a set, his first piece of art. He built the Music Hall to help raise funds for a $93 million renovation. That model has been on tour for seven years now.
“People love the concept of historical storytelling told through a gigantic, huge Lego model,” he said.
Clark funds his artwork through his job as an independent contractor in business intelligence and data analytics, but the Kirtland Temple piece shows how expensive it can get. At the Kirtland Temple Visitor Center, he saw a painting of the temple with its original dark red roof.
“I’m a big dark red fan, that’s one of my favorite Lego colors, but dark red is an extremely rare Lego color. To finish off the roof with a 70-degree slope, I had to spend $2.36 per individual brick for 500 roof tiles,” he said. “I bought all the dark red slope in North America that was reasonably affordable and I was short 120 bricks. I had a color palette I was not going to deviate from, so I had to buy the more expensive ones and that ran into some money.”
As the expenses mounted, some friends donated to the project, which continued to grow on Clark.
Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints quarried Ohio limestone from a nearby quarry. Clark used light gray, dark gray and burnt orange Lego bricks to recreate the sandstone look.
“I’m very detailed,” he said.
He did not include the small fence around the temple because it was not added to the temple grounds until later.
There were other hurdles.
“When I translated all of these dimensions into Lego math, every single space, every single corner turned out to be an odd number, and Lego does not like odd numbers,” Clark said. “So what that means is that I’ve had to use a 2x4 brick, and then slot in a 1x2 brick next to it because, for example, the space between the windows is five studs. That doesn’t go well in Lego math. So the hardest part was that at 1/50th scale, everything in this temple was an odd number.
He struggle with the roof and bell tower for five months. Then he redesigned the steeple because it just didn’t work.
Now, he says, “It is stunning.”
Clark said some Latter-day Saints temples are graced by some of the most stunning architecture he’s ever seen. His goal now is to display the Kirtland Temple replica to bring this Ohio and church origin story to people in Cincinnati and possibly around the country.
The Cincinnati Museum Center is expected to exhibit the replica at the end of this year, but Clark also hopes some Latter-day Saints or others might be interested in sending it out on a tour.
Meanwhile, he’s working on his next project, Cincinnati’s Carew Tower, which was built in the 1930 as a prototype for the Empire State Building at exactly one half the size.
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