By Crystal Burns
Thanks to a Trenton man’s engineering skills and willingness display to his work, you don’t have to leave the state to see some of the world’s most recognizable architectural structures.
You don’t even have to leave Gibson County.
John Wesley Williams, 37, has spent the past few months constructing models of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, U.S. Capitol, London Tower Bridge, and Taj Mahal in Lego form. All of his creations are currently on display at the Gibson County Memorial Library, located at 303 South High Street in Trenton.
John Wesley’s mother Jenny Williams said her son has always loved Lego. He had taken on some rather advanced projects, such as a model of Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, when he and Jenny found a Statue of Liberty set at a bookstore just before the COVID-19 pandemic forced Tennesseans to shelter at home as much as possible.
Although the Statue of Liberty, with 4,287 pieces is an expert level architectural Lego set, John Wesley put it together in no time.
“He did it, and he did it quickly,” Jenny said. “He’s very goal-oriented and task-oriented.”
While John Wesley and Jenny self-isolated at home, keeping him busy became her primary goal. He was unable to work his part-time job stocking shelves at House of Spirits or his one-day-a-week job at First Presbyterian Church in Trenton, so they found used, expert level architectural Lego sets on Ebay and prayed that the models would come with all pieces.
They did, and John Wesley breezed through the 4,287-piece London Tower Bridge, 1,767-piece Empire State Building, and 1,032-piece U.S. Capitol. Jenny was sure she would have John Wesley stumped for weeks when she ordered the Taj Mahal, a 5,923-piece structure.
“He had it done in four days,” Jenny said with a laugh.
John Wesley has poor vision and a bad back, and Jenny had to help him pace himself so that he wouldn’t hurt himself while putting together the intricate projects, which all include instruction manuals, some as thick as a 1988 phone book.
“He’s really detail-oriented,” Jenny said.
John Wesley falls on the autism spectrum and has what medical officials call “splinter skills.” A splinter skill is a precocious, highly developed behavior or talent that occurs in isolation, i.e, one that is not associated with other cognitive, manual, social, or verbal skills. Splinter skills are often found in children with autistic spectrum disorders.
“When we focus on strengths, skills and knowledge grow exponentially,” said Treva Maitland, a close friend of the Williams’ family who has worked with children with special needs and their families. “I’m thankful Jenny helped John discover and develop his own talents and strengths. John is definitely a Lego master.”
“John Wesley’s Lego builds are exceptional,” Gibson County Memorial Library Children’s Librarian Keisha Gibson said. “We are excited to have his work on display in our library and hope that it will encourage others to participate in Lego Club. Every now and then, we spotlight Lego builds from some of our regular builders to show them how proud we are of their accomplishments and to encourage others to take part in the program.”
The Lego Club meets every third Monday of the month at 3 p.m. and is open to children in grades 2-8. During Lego Club, children are issued a building challenge. The program helps children develop literacy, engineering, and social skills.
“Because of COVID-19, we are not currently hosting any in-person Lego programs but hope to bring them back soon,” Gibson said. “In the coming months, we will be encouraging our young patrons to create themed builds that can be entered in the Discovery Park of America’s Lego Competition this fall.”
Jenny noted that John Wesley is tickled to have his creations on display at the library, where he hopes more young people will get involved with the Lego Club, but he is worried that someone might destroy one of his sets.
Jenny has assured him that’s okay. John Wesley has already put each one together two or three times, so he can do it again if necessary.