At Brick World, Lego-loving grown-ups reignite a passion that never really died

At the LEGO convention in Chantilly, Va., the nation's largest, devotees from around the country come together to share their colorful constructions.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 9, 2010; 11:19 AM

First they came out in the hundreds, then by the thousands.

"It's not coming out of the closet, it's more like coming out of the basement," Arthur Gugick, 50, confessed to me this weekend in Chantilly, as he stood before the elaborate, plastic manifestation of a lifelong obsession he hid for many years -- his Legos.

Gugick is a rock star in this world of middle-aged man-children who are embracing and celebrating their boyhood love of the iconic little brick.

Before him was a display of some of the world's most amazing landmarks, from Cambodia's Angkor Wat to England's Big Ben, recreated by Gugick in painstaking detail with Lego bricks. The math teacher from Cleveland has custom-built platforms to transport the structures in a van bought specifically for his Lego expeditions. (He and his wife have agreements hammered out -- he gets a $50 a week allowance and Lego conventions, she gets a two-week ski trip in the winter.)

He told me about the calculus used to create the Roman Coliseum and the algebra that went into the leaning tower of Pisa.

On the other side of the display, a guy from North Carolina interrupted us. "Did you see my clown?" he called over to me, and I decided to run away from the looming, leering crank he created from thousands of Lego pieces.

It was cool, but eww, clowns.

These are men, I learned, who have emerged from an allegedly larval state they call "The Dark Ages," the years between childhood and adulthood when they didn't Lego.

"Well, I guess mine were really the dim ages, because I never really stopped playing. I just did it in secret," Gugick said. I watched as he answered questions from the 19,000 people who descended on the Dulles Expo Center last weekend to admire works such as his at Brick Fair , the largest Lego fan convention in the country. And it was madness.

There were 20-foot-tall cranes, spinning Ferris wheels, moving robots, the Stay Puft marshmallow man, cathedrals, space stations, train yards and mosaic murals of photographic quality.

Little boys (yes, of course there were girls, but they were vastly outnumbered) walked around the convention center in a daze, mouths opened in silent, reverent awe.

Caldwell Butler, 13, of Cumberland, wore a shirt depicting a long-haired, robed man building a Lego structure and the words: "What Would Jesus Build?"

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