Ready, Set, LEGO!

B e prepared for LEGO dazzle and delight when the BrickUniverse Convention for LEGO Fans visits the Dayton Convention Center August 18th and 19th. Move quickly, though, because BrickUniverse anticipates a sellout weekend. They’re bringing in some heavy hitter professional LEGO artists who are known all over the world, like Jonathan Lopes from San Diego. […]

Changing the world, one brick at a time


BrickUniverse features collaborative projects, such as this miniature town built by a variety of artists at the Raleigh, NC event. Lucky’s Diner was built by Rob Bender of the Pennsylvania LEGO Users Group. BrickUniverse photos by Michael O. Howard.

By Christy Lynne Trotter + photos by Michael O. Howard

Be prepared for LEGO dazzle and delight when the BrickUniverse Convention for LEGO Fans visits the Dayton Convention Center August 18th and 19th. Move quickly, though, because BrickUniverse anticipates a sellout weekend. They’re bringing in some heavy hitter professional LEGO artists who are known all over the world, like Jonathan Lopes from San Diego. He’ll have about 30 displays and will chat with fans about all things LEGO. Rocco Buttliere, from Chicago, is scheduled to bring about 50 of his models that replicate well-known world landmarks, like the Westminster Palace in London.

Fans will also have a chance to see a truly unique piece of art at this LEGO event. Greyson Beights, founder and organizer of BrickUniverse says, “One highlight is Canadian LEGO artist Paul Hetherington’s Joker Funhouse. It’s incredibly intricate and has so many details. When he debuted the exhibit, it [received] massive media attention. It was even featured on the Discovery Channel.”

You may wonder, how did all these LEGO creations come to arrive in Dayton? Well, add the ingenuity of a Danish toy maker with the entrepreneurial mastermind of a young man who wants to make a difference and you
have BrickUniverse.

Denmark Beginnings
Billund, Denmark has always been home to LEGO. The site LEGO.com is brick-full of company history, but here are a few things to note. Ole Kirk Kristiansen began the company in 1932. He formed “LEGO” by shortening the Danish words “leg” and “godt,” which translates to “play well.” The company is still in the Kristiansen family; a grandson of Ole, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, is the current owner.

The company initially made wooden toys. What we all recognize as LEGO wouldn’t arrive for more than 20 years after their beginning. In the 1940s the company made binding bricks that were sold only in Denmark. You could say they were the grandfather to the LEGO as we now know it.

In the mid-fifties, LEGO became a registered trademark in Denmark and the company created their concept of the molded plastic “LEGO System of Play,” with 28 sets. Sweden was the first country to receive exports of the toy. In 1958, according to LEGO.com, “The current LEGO stud-and-tube coupling system [was] patented.”

By the 1960s, LEGO began expanding internationally (including export to the U.S. in 1961) and continued to increase their product line with the creation and expansion of figurines, trains, more sets, transportation vehicles, and DUPLO. In 1967 specifically, the company’s ‘history’ section on its website indicates “The LEGOLAND brand is established and there are now 218 different LEGO elements and between 18 and 19 million LEGO sets sold during the year.”

Here’s something interesting: the LEGO website gives a shout out to our hometown. In 1978, “The first LEGO Road Show takes place in Dayton, Ohio. Later, this becomes the LEGO World Shows.”

Fast forward: In 1988, the first LEGO World Cup Championships were held in Billund, thus propelling a concept through the ‘90s that took us from building with our imagination in our living rooms to building big around the world. Utilizing LEGO in education blossomed, and LEGO forever solidified its spot in American pop culture when the Star Wars LEGO system was created.

As of 2015, LEGO is sold in over 140 countries around the world. There are planes, trains, boats, and almost any vehicle imaginable that LEGO fans can build around. Building sets, house sets, city sets, robots, and space. Disney, Harry Potter, Jurassic World, Superheroes and Marvel, Minecraft, Architecture, Creator, and Technic… the possibilities of life within a LEGO world are endless. Plus, there are online games and a movie that came out in 2014, with a second one expected next year.

For a company that has encouraged fans all over the world to “play well” and with a motto of “only the best is good enough,” is it any wonder a toy that started out as a wooden brick has been named toy of the century—twice—and according to a 2014 time.com article, is the number one most influential toy of all time?

The company’s spirit is that they are “committed to the development of children and aims to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow through creative play and learning.” It’s that spirit that propels professional LEGO artists to unite, traveling city to city and across oceans to bring LEGO models and replicas of cities and landmarks to life to inspire fans of all ages.

Enter BrickUniverse
It’s THIS that BrickUniverse wants to show Dayton: a world of creativity and inspiration. “We picked Dayton because we want the people of Dayton to experience the joy that LEGO has brought to so many other towns,” Beights explains.

Beights began BrickUniverse in 2014 when he was 14 years old. They held their first LEGO fan convention in 2015, in Raleigh, North Carolina. “We completed our 20th event at the end of June in Madison, Wisconsin,” Beights says. “We see a steady increase in attendance every year.” What does he attributes this to? Repeat attendees and positive word of mouth, Beights claims.

If you’ve done the math, you’ll realize that Beights is currently 18 years old. If you check out his website, greysonbeights.com, you’ll see that in addition to organizing BrickUniverse, he’s also written a book called Medieval LEGO, which teaches about medieval history via the use of LEGO illustrations. Beights is passionate about teaching and getting “young people interested in learning.”

There’s no better way to do that than by touring with LEGO. “I wanted to inspire learning and creativity through LEGO bricks,” he explains. “LEGO has such a wide appeal that it can be really used to teach anything to anyone.”

BrickUniverse delivers a “live, immersive event, where we are able to reach a large amount of people and hopefully help change the world for the better, one brick at a time,” Beights says, and the fans love it. “We see the same amount of enthusiasm in each city we visit,” he adds. “Everyone seems to know LEGO and it is amazing that it attracts both young and old alike.”

In reaching as many people as they can, inspiration turns to awe. If you see LEGO in its truest form of what BrickUniverse has to offer, you will appreciate the time, effort, and energy that LEGO artists put into their work. “There are three stages,” Beights explains. “The designing stage, the resource allocation stage, and the actual building of the sculpture stage. A large model like Buttliere’s scaled Golden Gate Bridge can take anywhere from a couple months to a year to build.”

That’s dedication. That’s art. That’s the LEGO life: inspiring and creating. Lego brings an appeal that continues to grow, and Beights would agree that LEGO is a hit. “In 2017,” he offers, “Forbes named LEGO the world’s most powerful brand, beating out even Ferrari in its name recognition. I really believe LEGO has become larger than just a brand.” It’s its own genre, he says.

It wouldn’t likely surprise Beights then, that the LEGO genre is alive and well in Dayton, perhaps solidifying the notion that making us a stop on the BrickUniverse tour was a good call to make.

Daytons Love of the LEGO
Wright Memorial Public Library in Oakwood has been hosting their Let’s Go LEGO program (including special events) twice a month, year-round, for a while now. Each session had a music theme to go with it, like disco and rock of the ‘90s. Jacqui Taylor, Youth Services Coordinator at Wright Memorial, notes that the addition of music to each session brought “lots of smiles.”

With the goal in mind to give children and adults an outlet to let their creativity and imagination shine through, Taylor says the program began when they won a grant from the state library and received about 30,000 LEGO. “We know how much kids love to play, and our library services for children are very much centered on play-based learning,” she adds.

The library displayed pieces all summer that were judged on how well they “best portrayed that session’s genre of music and are from builders of various ages and skill levels,” Taylor says. A few of the displays include a western scene with bandits, cacti, Darth Vader, and a sold-out amphitheater concert with the likes of mermaids and storm troopers in the crowd.

Kids aren’t just building at the library. They’re building at home and school, too. Melinda Witt, of Beavercreek and a second-grade teacher for Dayton Public Schools at Eastmont Elementary, has two sons, Owen, 7, and Noah, 6, who both play with LEGO bricks. “They usually build houses, flying machines, and cars,” Witt says, but they really like the Minecraft LEGOS because they like the video game. Witt adds that she’s seen STEM activities and other ideas on Pinterest that she’d like to try in her own classroom. “I remember playing with LEGO when I was in elementary school,” she says. “I’m amazed at all the different kinds of things that can be constructed by them.”

Sort of like what you will see at BrickUniverse this weekend or like what a few of you saw if you were at a Dayton Dragons home game recently. Baseball and LEGO fans of all ages gathered as the Dragons held their LEGO Let’s Play Weekend at Fifth Third Field the last weekend of July. Fans had a chance to see LEGO ambassadors, play in a play area, and take photos with LEGO models.

Alas, it’s not only LEGO events happening in our community that keep our love of LEGO alive. Much of our building happens right in our own homes (how many pieces have you stepped on in the middle of the night?). While LEGO can be purchased online or at larger chain stores, don’t discount a local toy store or two to have sets on hand.

Toy FanAddict, for example, located at 229 N Springboro Pike in Dayton, sells vintage toys and collectibles. Tony Bolling, owner for the last six years, says he’s seen his share of LEGO come through the door over the years, but he’s not a vendor. “I mostly buy pre-used and new LEGO [items] from other people,” Bolling explains, then sells them to his customers. “LEGO is probably as big a seller for me as Star Wars [items] are.”

His stock varies, but he’s had vintage LEGO sets from the 1950s and 1970s on hand before. Some sets will be in the box, some won’t. Some will be set up, some won’t, but buyers don’t seem to mind, and it’s not only kids shopping. “Every generation comes in to buy LEGO,” Bolling notes. It’s that collector aspect. He noticed LEGO becoming a bigger collector item about ten years ago with television and movie themes. Star Wars started it, and Marvel and Disney followed. It’s all become part of that LEGO genre Beights spoke of earlier.

As LEGO continues to become its own model of success, the aspects of creation, imagination, and learning are never-ending. That holds true for any LEGO fan, no matter what age, as Beights provides a final thought: “BrickUniverse is all about fun for the whole family. My hope is that every attendee will leave BrickUniverse inspired. Inspired to learn, create, and to build.”

Play well, LEGO fans. Play well.

BrickUniverse Convention for LEGO Fans takes place Aug. 18–19, 10 a.m.–1 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Dayton Convention Center, 22 East Fifth Street, first floor, room 101. Nonrefundable tickets are 15.00 for adults and children age 3 and up (children age 2 and under enter for free, children under 18 must be accompanied by paid adult). For more information, visit brickuniverse.com/dayton or call the Dayton Convention Center at 937.333.4700.

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