When I met Durango’s resident “Lego Bomber,” Sam Bridgham, outside a coffee shop on Main Avenue he asked that I wear a newspaper hat so he could identify me. That was the first sign of a bit of artful anarchy.
The expectation was to meet an adult male in his 50s. Instead, I’m greeted by a blonde-haired 11-year-old. He told me he’s Sam, the Lego Bomber, and led me away on a tour of “his” artwork.
Lego bombing is just like yarn bombing, but done with the popular interlocking plastic bricks you may have grown up playing with. Bridgham’s Lego bombs have been popping up around Durango for the last two years: outside businesses, on the backs of buildings and on signs.
The 11-year-old claiming to be the bomber led me to some surprisingly discreet toy sculptures. I almost missed the bluish-greenish Legos lodged in the sign for the Old Main Post Office. They look like they’re part of the stonework.
The tour given by this young imposter ends at an old junior high school that’s been converted into space for yoga and art classes. There, a bright green centipede-looking Lego creature crawled up a wall. I’ve played along with this Sam up until now. But I know he’s not the actual Sam Bridgham I’ve read about — and seen photos of — in the newspaper.
When pressed about this detail, the juvenile facsimile impishly said those photos are of, “The older Sam, who was born in the 60s.”
I asked if I could meet Older Sam. “Probably,” came the reply. “Let me just grow up right now. Give me a second.”
When Younger Sam disappeared down a stairwell, older Sam emerged from around the building. From across the lawn he quipped that it was hard for him “to get that young on a Sunday morning.” Bridgham’s impersonator is Nils Hansen, one of his young Lego bombing assistants who helped him construct these mini artworks around the city. When Bridgham began two years ago, it was a solo endeavor.
“I was just really frustrated one night,” Bridgham said. “I’m lying in my bed, and I’m not ordinarily a praying man, but I gave it a try. I got nothing and just felt really irritated and decided to go vandalize something.”
He happened to have hundreds of bricks about as he teaches Lego robotics through his own business called Alpine Educational Associates.
“I took all these Legos and plastered them on a post, trying to offend somebody,” he said. “And what do you know, it was wildly misinterpreted as art and here I am today.”
Describing himself as a “squirrel burying acorns,” Bridgham has no idea how many Lego bombs are currently on view around Durango. His work often ends up out of sight, out of mind and people tell him where they saw them.
The brick sculptures often move or are taken down. So, while you might see a Lego critter outside a business one week, it may not be there the next: “These things have a lifespan and sometimes it’s just time for them to move on,” he said. “They’re not meant to be permanent.”
Bridgham showed off some Lego butterflies he attached to a Starbucks sign and the square-shaped collage of Lego in the window of the drive-thru pharmacy at a Walgreens. Speaking through the drive-thru intercom, senior pharmacy technician Melissa Sullivan explained why she loves having the Lego sculpture there.
“People ask about it and it sparks conversation,” Sullivan said
Bridgham’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Durango Herald has written several articles about the town’s resident Lego bomber. He’s beginning to get more commissions. In the spring, the city awarded him the first Durango Creates grant. That gave him $1,000 to Lego bomb along a stretch of Main Avenue.
“I’m a vandal now with a budget and a license,” Bridgham said with a laugh. “So I’m respectable society’s worst enemy.”
Colleen O’Brien, Durango’s business development and redevelopment coordinator said the city’s Public Art Commission approved the grant without any hesitation over the fact that Bridgham has been Lego bombing without permission.
“[His art] is fun because it helps you think of public spaces differently or even private spaces differently,” O’Brien said. “You can interact with it and it helps you pay a little closer attention.”
Bridgham’s biggest project yet is a permanent installation at Fort Lewis College’s John F. Reed Library. Library director Martha Talman commissioned Bridgham to build it, opting for Lego art instead of yet another landscape painting.
In order to bring color and light to the largely beige library space, Bridgham is placing Lego designs up the library’s four large columns and he’s begun a mosaic-like work that wraps around the library’s balcony. Much of these Legos have been donated by Durango kids.
“I will have all the Lego I could possibly want and then some,” Bridgham said.
Bridgham has been paying attention to how people respond to the Lego art, and he finds all kinds of deep meaning in it. He spoke of the lacuna — which literally means a small unfilled space or cavity in a bone. His metaphorical approach to the word interprets it as “an empty space in your awareness, a hole in your awareness… it’s the unknown unknown.”
But when you look at what online comments say about his work, many people just call his Lego artwork “fun.”