In a 1973 Scientific American article, vision scientist Leon D. Harmon took an image of Abraham Lincoln from a $5 bill and broke it down into blocks, filling each block with the average gray-scale value for that region. He established the minimum number of blocks required for face recognition to be 16 x 16 blocks (256 blocks total). The finding inspired surrealist artist Salvador Dali to create his signature masterpiece Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea, which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

There is a similar intersection of art, science and engineering in the works of Lego artist Nathan Sawaya, whose “Art of the Brick” traveling show I visited last weekend at the Discovery Times Square Museum in New York (the exhibition closed Sunday).

The Sawaya exhibit featured very many examples of “block averaging” variants of classic pictorial and architectural masterpieces. (I am hard pressed to think of more entertaining ways to do block averaging than with Legos). I did not see Lincoln’s depiction but I hope Sawaya will include it in future shows. In the meantime, you can try to use your old and new pennies to make your own block-averaged Lincoln portrait.