Connecting to Legos: Not Just for Kids

The Lego Group estimates there are at least 40,000 adult Lego lovers.
The Lego Group estimates there are at least 40,000 adult Lego lovers.

Legos are a plaything most of us identify with our childhood. Note I said MOST of us. Turns out, more adults than you might suppose have never stopped playing with those little plastic bricks, and Russ Mitchell will prove that:

Barbie's got the glamour, Nintendo's "Game Boy" the tech ...

But to be named the most popular toy ever made, it helps to be a little square.

Legos - those interlocking plastic bricks - are everywhere . . . in fashion . . . home design . . . on the Internet.

And while most of us associate the word Lego (Danish for "play well") with childhood, a growing number of adults are admitting they "play well" . . . well into their forties, fifties and beyond.

They've even got their own acronym: AFOLS (Adult Fans of Legos).

The Lego Group estimates there are at least 40,000 of these later-in-life Lego lovers.

In fact, they account for five percent of all Lego sales.

And they live among us.

Mike Bader is from New City, New York.

"When you're a kid , begging for a Lego set, it's hit or miss - Mom, can I get this? Dad, can I get this? The answer is usually no.

"Lego is expensive, it's still expensive. So as an adult it's like being a kid again. Instead of just buying one of these, I can buy four of these and take the pieces out and use them for what I want to do."

Mike guesses he has 400,000 Legos in his basement collection - that's about $40,000 worth.

He keeps them in plastic bags inside boxes. "For me it's easier, it's a more organized way of doing things. My wife thinks, Oh, you're just OCD and neurotic because you're putting plastic Lego into plastic bags into plastic boxes!"

But don't despair for his wife, Erica. She knew what she was getting into . . .

"Well, about ten years ago, before we even got involved, he was the Lego Man," said Erica. "Everybody in town, everybody knew that, this is what he did."

"I don't think that everybody in town …" Mike protested.

"EVERYBODY in town knows that he's the Lego Man!" she said. "Even my students know. I learn everyday about the Lego, and it's become part of our life. Now that we have a son he loves to play with the Lego.

"You know, every man needs a mancave," she said, "but in my world my husband needs a Lego room."

Mike, along with 10,000 others, recently attended Brickfair, the Super Bowl of Lego Conventions, in Northern Virginia.

"It makes it worth it," said Bader, "that I'm not building in my room for hours and hours for no reason, that I have positive results coming out of it, which is absolutely nice."

The convention draws fans from across the country. They meet to show off new creations, and connect with other Lego enthusiasts.

"It's important for me, and people like me, so we can get together and hang out and just socialize with friends - adults who still play with Legos," said Todd Webb, the founder of Brickfair.

"So, whether I like it or not, it's my flavor of my childhood," said Webb. "And as soon as I see the pieces and hear the noise and touch them, it's just - it's Pavlovian."

Some make Lego Trains . . .

Some are Lego architects . . .

Giant Lego chess, anyone?

There are Lego obsessions of all shapes and sizes. But Webb says one trait is universal: A trait that may not surprise you . . .

"When you meet an adult fan of Lego by himself, you might get just a little hint of nerdiness, or maybe he disguises it well," said Webb. "But when you put 30 or more of us in a room together, the nerdiness rises from the floor like mist. And it's pretty palpable.

"That would be the common denominator," he said, "a nerd factor."

"You're quite proud of that, though, Todd!" said Mitchell.

"No, I'm just honest about it. I'm not proud of it, no."

Now, meet the first couple of Brickfair: Justin and Jessica Rupp.

Jessica said she didn't know she would find a partner in life who loved Lego as much as she did.

"I hoped to find a partner that I could share things with. But Lego, you know, I never thought. And it's probably the main part of our lives together that we enjoy," she said.

Yes, Legos are an important building block in their marriage. In fact, they were even married under a Lego chuppah, a Jewish ceremonial canopy

"We thought, 'Well, why don't we build it out of something that we enjoy building with anyway?'" said Justin.

"Yeah, build this out of LEGO!" said Jessica.

Most of these fans enjoy working with Legos in their spare time. But for Nathan Sawaya, a part-time hobby has become a full-time profession. His artist's studio contains about 1.5 million Lego bricks.

He broke out from his career as a corporate lawyer, in order to build on his talent as a self-described Brick Artist.

"I want to take Lego into that fine art setting, into the museum," said Swaya. "And that's something I'd never seen done before. And to really try and create sculptures that kind of draw emotional, you know, impact from the viewer. So I've tried to take this toy that people are so familiar with, but really make them think about it in a different way, almost make them forget that it is a toy."

His works can be playful and surreal, even disturbing . . . and each one is made solely with these regular square and rectangular pieces

"Just the standard rectangular bricks," he said. "There's no specialized pieces in there, but it still evokes two human figures."

Museums and galleries across the country have taken notice, with Sawaya's artwork on a nationwide tour.

"So the galleries that have taken a chance on it are blown away now," said Swaya. "They've seen what the reaction this type of art is getting. I mean, the shows are phenomenal. The attendance is blowing the doors off of, you know, most exhibitions because so many people can relate to the medium."

Young or old, these Lego lovers seems to agree: When it comes to Legos, there is no such thing as a generation gap.

... Even construct a colorful bridge to childhood, one plastic brick at a time.

For more info:
Nathan Sawaya
Springfield Museums