To construct their magical annual display, the GFKLug (Grand Forks Lego Users Group) turns to the GRAND region’s most iconic or well-known establishments for inspiration. This year it’s the polka dot house, the North Dakota Mill and the New Flavors Food Truck (among several others). Like the last two years, the Lego aficionados are bringing back the Red Pepper, Darcy’s Café and several other well-known places. The group spends weeks meticulously piecing together replications of buildings or scenes with their go-to favorite staple—the Lego block. Their attention to detail is undeniably noticeable, if not shockingly impressive. Miniature signs for buildings are created with faded effects to mimic the real-life versions. Face expressions on figurines match the setting in which they are placed. Trains run. Lights work. Loaves of bread, pizza slices and anything else that might seem to small for a Lego-sized setting are all placed into the display in a way that is easy to notice and hard to look away from.
James Whitney, once called the Mayor of Lego City in Grand Forks, is a member of the users group. Whitney spends hours and days leading up to the event stressing over Legos and building, always building. Started three years ago by Jamie and Tricia Lunksi, the annual display draws thousands of visitors each year to HB Sound & Light in Grand Forks. This year, a 21+ night paired a viewing opportunity with adult beverages and entertainment. As in years past, the event is otherwise open and free to the public for multiple weekends leading up to Christmas. There is always a loose plan for what the group of less than 30 will build, but each member has the freedom to create. It is hard to say how many pieces are used every year, Whitney says with a grin, an imaginary thought bubble appearing above his head showing that he has never really thought of the answer to the numbers question, nor does he really care.
Of course, you might ask why? Why would they do this, put in the time, stay up late searching for a single Lego brick, trade bricks with other members or make drawings to work off of for many days and nights? Why would grown adults spend their valuable time building—or playing—with Legos?
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If you are lucky enough to take time from your valuable day, go see the displays in person. You will walk up to a tiny replica of Rhombus Guys pizza and look in the second-floor window and see something unexpected. Feet away from that display you see a dog running. Next to that there is a Santa Claus reigning in a team of horses underneath the smiling water tower. While you are looking, your fingers start to move, and you find yourself unconsciously fighting off the urge to reach out and touch every Lego block within reach. You won’t though, you refrain, but you keep staring. You will lean down, visually digesting a world you recognize, all the while smiling without any recognition of when you started smiling. When you stand up, you will notice Lego displays all around you, there are other people too, also leaning down, all of them smiling or pointing. You will try to find someone you know that isn’t looking at the Legos so you can look them in the eye and motion to them to walk over to you. You want to point at what you saw and let them share in the unexpected joy you felt from the Lego work created by the user group. “Look at this,” you will want to say to anyone who will listen, as you point to a piece of plastic that weighs only 1.15 grams. Most likely, no one will come over to you because they themselves will be too busy looking at the Legos. So, you will turn back to the Legos in front of you, bend down at the waist and point again at the displays. That is when you’ll understand it all, and you will have the answer to the question of why the User Group creates the Lego display. Standing in front of the display, your lips will silently mouth the phrase, “Look at this,” to no one but yourself and for a brief second, about the time it takes to snap one Lego brick onto another, you realize and remember that the make-believe joy you see in the Legos also exists in the non-Lego world. G
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PHOTOS BY: MANSTROM PHOTOGRAPHY From Issue 6, 2019