February 13, 2014

Easy Escapes | Marvel at Legoland, gardens, museum in Florida

Producers of “The Lego Movie,” which commanded the box office last weekend, have built quite a blockbuster; so has U.K.-based Merlin Entertainments Group, which opened Legoland Florida in October 2011.

Producers of “The Lego Movie,” which commanded the box office last weekend, have built quite a blockbuster; so has U.K.-based Merlin Entertainments Group, which opened Legoland Florida in October 2011.

This amusement park, which includes historic Cypress Gardens, in Winter Haven, between Orlando and Tampa, and The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, just off Interstate 95 in downtown Jacksonville, both merit stops for anyone traveling to and from central Florida.

Nothing is miniature about the grand layout of Legoland’s Miniland USA, a whole park of Lego designs 1/20 in scale to their real-world models, from the Daytona 500 Speedway, with a grandstand full of people, to such clusters as Washington, D.C., and New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, a sunset celebration in Key West, and Cape Canaveral, simulating the smoke from a former space shuttle blasting off.

In a presentation last month by a cluster of places in the shape of Florida, Jason Miller, one of the park’s four “master model builders,” shared building blocks of knowledge about Legos. He said 100 master builders from four continents teamed up to build Miniland, which took two years to install, with more than 30 million Lego bricks, and that 8 million more have been added in displays since then.

All the designs are bolted into concrete, and “piece by piece, brick by brick,” everything’s fastened with a special glue just for the park, said Miller, who began playing with Legos at age 5 and developed “giant dioramas” with battling knights and “wild west” scenes. Gluing Lego designs at home, though, is not encouraged, “so you can take them apart and rebuild them.”

For students aspiring for master model builderhood, Miller said such designing melds the subjects of math, science, social studies and art, for even the namesake statues in the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials behind him are included inside their edifices for accuracy and respect.

Larger, life-size Lego figures placed across the park, even in Cypress Gardens, were designed and sculpted from photos and images, just like the mini-layouts, “down the street lights and trash cans” in Miniland, Miller said.

Look for the littlest details, such as a shipwreck, inhabited by a red octopus, as well as newspaper vending boxes in the Manhattan scene, and if anyone can spot them, Miniland’s smallest figures, six pigeons. A sign states that the Washington Monument real-life weighs 81,210 tons, but even the Lego model racks up some heft, at 129 pounds.

The park’s amusements spread across the 150 acres, take such themes as Imagination Zone; Lost Kingdom Adventure; driving, boating and flying schools; and right upon entry, Fun Town, with a double-deck carousel. Rides are included with admission, so depending on time, day and season, wait times, including the signature Coastersaurus, will vary.

Pirates’ Cove water-ski shows play out on its lakeside, with some Lego-faced imperial soldiers in the “Battle for Blackbeard’s Bounty,” with acrobats and a three-deck pyramid.

Just as Miniland might munch one hour of a family visit, so could a walk through Cypress Gardens. Anyone who adores Brookgreen Gardens ought to find this botanical wonderland enchanting. The gardens, which first opened in 1936, and later changing several hands, also might be a stroll down memory lane for some visitors.

Its crown jewel remains a banyan tree planted as a seedling in 1939. In the decades since, the branches have walked out into formations through which people enjoy strolling. A gazebo nearby, supported by eight stone columns, a symbolic identity of the gardens from many vantage points through the flora, also drew many individuals for photo ops on a partly sunny afternoon.

One of the two St. Francis of Assisi statues with the banyan tree in background also throws a kiss as the patron saint of birds with these words:

“The kiss of the sun for pardon; the song of the birds for mirth; you are nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on Earth.”

Art along the river

“The Cummer,” as known in the city named after our seventh president, overlooks the St. Johns River. This single-floor museum could easily merit two hours, to appreciate its collection of art going back more than 4,100 years. The “Art Connections Interactive Center” alone could captivate a child for 60 minutes with ease, including a digital painting project on a screen from which a printout could be a take-home masterpiece.

The wall card at the limestone “Relief of Ramses II,” from about 1290-1280 BCE, notes that in the subject’s 67-year reign of Egypt, he built more monuments and statues than any other pharaoh.

Nearby, from about 900 years earlier, “Stela of Iku and Mer-imat,” a colorful, painted limestone, shows a man and wife, respectively, and its etched words translate viewers to pause to read aloud a plea to provide the deceased with “a thousand of bread and beer, a thousand of beef and fowl, and of everything good, for the high official, the honored Iku.”

In another religious angle, “Madonna and Child” by Nicklaus Weckmann the Elder, from about 1490-1500 on limewood, notice the young boy’s hand grip on a pomegranate, “a Christian symbol of fertility and eternity.”

A moment in front of Paulus Bor’s “Allegory of Avarice” oil on canvas, from the mid-17th century, might shed light amid its dark aura. With the light source gracing her face and hands, a lone older woman sits, hunched under a wrap, by her monies and a sad- or mad-looking dog.

Another oil, René-Théodore Berthon’s “Portrait of Princess Pauline Borghèse and the Baroness de Mathiesse,” from about 1810, shows Borghèse, the youngest sister of Napoleon Bonaparte and with flower in left hand, looking toward another lady companion.

The museum has two Gilbert Stuart portraits on a wall, including an oil of George Washington from about 1803, one of more than 100 he painted since 1795 of the first U.S. president. On that same wall, George P.A. Healy put Andrew Jackson on canvas in 1845, “days before his death,” as the man immortalized on the $20 bill looks much older, with white hair, a high forehead and small face.

Even on a chilly winter afternoon, a stroll outside the rear of the museum will greet anyone’s eyes with charm, in five gardens, including Italian and English sections, and a view of downtown Jacksonville along the scenic St. Johns River.

Back inside, turn left for the Ralph H. Wark Collection of Early Meissen Porcelain, occupying its own gallery, and learn some words in that art form, such as pogod, an incense burner; ecuelle, a small, covered bowl; and bourdalow, a woman’s chamber pot.

Don’t leave the building without checking out an oil that Norman Rockwell painted in 1939, “Second Holiday.” An elderly pair is pictured, huddled in the lobby of a doctor’s office, as someone else’s pair of gloves, a top hat and umbrella are parked at the end of the bench, by a medic in white scrubs. Each member of the couple bears a hidden knowledge, which was told in an accompanying short story published in American Magazine, and it shows in their straight, cold stares forward, for they each know something about the medical matter at hand, but hold back. Maybe interpret that as their true love for each other.

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