Tuesday, May 11, 2010

LEGO - The Building Blocks of History

Growing up I loved playing with LEGO. From the first case of random blocks to the sets of castles, pirates and spacemen, the idea of creating buildings fascinated me. As I grew older, my love for LEGO did not diminish, and I actually received a set as a gift only a few years ago. Once in a while I still pull out my LEGO and see what I can build. So what does a grown man playing with children’s toys have to do with history? Possibly a lot.

As the volunteer archivist for Alberta’s oldest Protestant congregation I am occasionally called upon to raise awareness of the church’s history among the congregation. One day, with this in mind, I took out my LEGO and built a representation of the 1873 McDougall church (the first Protestant church built in Edmonton). I brought the Lego building to the church and wouldn’t you know it, people (and not just children) seemed drawn to it, and wanted to talk to me about the church’s history.

While this all might sound a little strange, it is not as odd as it sounds. LEGO is becoming mainstream for people other than children. Artist Nathan Sawaya has toured the world with his exhibit The Art of the Brick, which was at the Edmonton’s Telus World of Science in 2009. In 2009 the Southern Alberta LEGO User’s Group (SALUG – and yes, it really exists), submitted some model railways that were incorporated into the exhibit Vistas: Artists on the Canadian Pacific Railway. LEGO is also being used to raise awareness of built heritage. The Royal Alberta Museum, for example, held an exhibit in 2006 that featured local historic buildings created by the Northern Alberta LEGO User’s Group (NALUG). The LEGO Corporation itself is also getting in on the action, with their Landmark and Architecture series, the most impressive of which to date is Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. It may not be long before LEGO sets of the Roman Coliseum or Machu Picchu are available to enthusiasts of all ages. While some may decry the commoditisation of world culture, LEGO has the potential of being a very interesting medium for public history.

*The above photo is of the Alberta Legislature in LEGO, and is available on MDV's Flickr stream.

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