Eastern Michigan University biology professor creates life-like mosaics using LEGO

Latest Civil Rights piece on display for Black History Month

Aaron Liepman standing behind the large LEGO installation of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery with MLK in the center.

YPSILANTI – According to experts, playing with LEGO offers hours of entertainment and other benefits, like strengthening fine motor skills and problem-solving for children and parents alike. But for Eastern Michigan University Biology Professor Aaron Liepman, creating mosaics from LEGO gives him a healthy creative outlet.

Liepman, who enjoys conducting research in his laboratory and has taught students about cellular and molecular biology for 17 years, discovered his favorite pastime when he saw a LEGO mosaic portraying the skyline outside the LEGO store in Chicago. His curiosity about the subtle details led to his passion for creating large-size mosaics, including portraits of historical figures, superheroes and animals.

A detail of the LEGO installation by Aaron Liepman
A detail from the LEGO installation created by Aaron Liepman. The piece is on display at the Ann Arbor District Library through Black History Month.

"It is inspiring to see how Aaron has used his talents to educate others both inside our biology classrooms and laboratories and also within the community, to facilitate more diversity-related conversations and, hopefully, activism among those who see his work," said Natalie Dove, administrative steward for the department of biology at EMU.

According to Liepman, the brain interprets these mosaics in interesting ways, offering different viewpoints when viewed up close and from afar. “As an artist, I create mosaics using purely rectangular pieces that can fool someone into believing they are seeing smooth contours and arcs,” said Liepman. “The illusion that happens when people get close or step away from the piece is fascinating.”

Liepman’s desire to give people something to think about grew more profound in the summer of 2020 when the country was experiencing civil unrest.

“I wanted to learn more about civil rights due to the racial injustices of the time,” said Liepman. “I figured learning about the civil rights struggle is a good way to begin, and what better way to start than to look at some of the things that were happening.”

Liepman began listening to Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches and reviewing past images of the icon for sources of inspiration. His first creation, “Revolutionary,” displays King addressing a large audience at the Freedom Rally in Los Angeles in 1963. 

His latest rendition of the civil rights leader shows him arm in arm with other influential leaders during the famous 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama that eventually led to the development of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This piece was created using over 16,000 hand-painted LEGO bricks and took more than 100 hours to build. It is displayed through Black History Month in the downtown Ann Arbor District Library branch, 343 S. 5th Ave. 

What’s behind Liepman’s motivation for spending hundreds of hours creating? "Sometimes, an image speaks to and inspires me to create a mosaic,” said Liepman. “While this process takes a lot of time, the investment is worth it. Creating mosaics allows me to express my creativity, and it is gratifying to share my mosaics with others. I don't hide my artistic side from my students. I want to model the importance and benefits that come from pursuing labors of love, to encourage my students to pursue interests and activities they love."

The community can learn more about Liepman and LEGO mosaics during a meet and greet about his Selma to Montgomery LEGO Mosaic from 10 to 11 a.m. on  Saturday, Jan. 28, at the Ann Arbor District Library. For more information, visit the AADL website.

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 14,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU Today.

January 23, 2023

Written by:
Melissa Thrasher

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher