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Ultimate Block Party

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The expansive Hort/Ag Building at the Indiana State Fairgrounds housed gigantic garden anomalies, the world's largest popcorn ball and all things honey-made last summer. This weekend, it will transform into a fantasyland for LEGO lovers. Brick by little pegged-plastic brick, 45,000 square feet of LEGO displays will be arranged like a collection of carefully curated museum Master works. Exhibits will be chained off, admired and studied by thousands of inspired onlookers.

Kids at Brickworld get to learn from lifelong LEGO enthusiasts. - ALEX TAYLOR
  • Alex Taylor
  • Kids at Brickworld get to learn from lifelong LEGO enthusiasts.

Kathie Bonahoom, Brickworld event manager and company co-owner with husband Bryan, understands the minds of LEGO builders, even though she's not one of them. "I'm the organizer of the event, but Bryan is the builder," she says. "My husband is the one who decides which displays we have. He got involved because he does robotic work; he's actually an engineer at his regular job."

Considering the scope of this weekend's event (one of several annual shows the couple stages), it would seem Brickworld is his full-time regular job. Bonahoom says her husband got involved in 2003 on a professional level by coaching a FIRST LEGO League for kids 9 to 14 years old. Still mentoring for the organization today, he helps teach youth about robotics, research and design presentation of the brick-building pieces. It culminates in a competition each fall. Through this worldwide organization, the youth learn core values and sportsmanship (and about a gazillion ways to create various structures with the mostly primary-colored plastic bricks).

Bonahoom says guests at this year's Brickworld Indy expo can expect to see (among many others) layouts of elaborate cityscapes, LEGO Star Wars setups, moving trainscapes of LEGO configurations, and a fighting robot interactive display that lets fans operate LEGO-made bots by remote control.

For those who can't resist all the "look but don't touch" creations, they can hit the bricks -- 20,000 of them -- at two play areas (one for toddlers and another for builders of all ages). An elaborate seek-and-find exhibit will also challenge fans of the "I-Spy" book series. The busy diorama will feature intricate scenes with various objects well-hidden among its designs.

Friday Brickworld will begin staging for the weekend's event, and fortunately for the Bonahooms, the Indiana LEGO Users Group organization assists in the setup of the nearly 50,000 square feet of creations. One of those IndyLUG creators of LEGO fame is Bloomington resident Brian Alano. You might recall this engineer's handiwork a few years ago when he built the amazing Lucas Oil Stadium replica out of LEGO bricks.

Just don't expect to see it at this show -- or at any others, ever again. "I was taking it to a tailgate event at the opening game this season for the Colts," Alano explains. "I had just finished repackaging it for travel and rebuilding all the stuff that had fallen apart the last time I used it. I'm not really sure what happened, but I had wrapped it in cellophane cling wrap. From the looks of it, I took a corner too fast [while driving]. And one wall must have given way, and the shrink wrap took everything else with it."

Alano spent several thousand dollars and more than two years assembling the 35,000-piece configuration, which had more than 1,000 minifigures in it. And it took four hours and two people to set it up whenever he took it to display at different events. Understandably, its implosion in transport was a disappointment, but Alano's G-rated reaction was far less dramatic than most would expect.

"My first reaction was, 'can I fix it?' and it took me just a few seconds to realize there was no way I could, and if I did, it would probably take me about six months," he said. "I just kind of felt like it was like that of an old family dog, if you've ever had one, it had had a good life, but now that it was gone, it was time to move on."

Alano is now working on another large-scale project, but he can't discuss details because it's a surprise for his wife's birthday. These days he does a great deal of work with the Great Ball Contraption for the Climate Mitigation Institute. One of these Rube Goldberg-type contraptions will be on display this weekend. It's a take-off on the scientific models and will use basketballs to simulate the carbon cycle of the earth.

The 46-year-old, and youngest of five brothers, doesn't recall a time he wasn't building with LEGO. "We always had LEGO bricks in the house," he said.  "I may not have taken any to college with me, but I know I played with them in the summers and at Christmas when I came home."

A lifelong LEGO enthusiast and IndyLUG member, Alano has opinions on the debatable "to glue or not to glue" ethics of the LEGO world. But with a similar mild-mannered, level-headed reasoning he used when his stadium imploded, Alano says, "It just depends."

He rationalizes that LEGO stores glue their display models for durability, which he agrees is a perfectly good thing to glue.

Brickworld is a celebration of the cross-generational appeal of LEGO bricks. - ALEX TAYLOR
  • Alex Taylor
  • Brickworld is a celebration of the cross-generational appeal of LEGO bricks.

"If I were making something to sell, like a napkin holder, for instance, I might offer to glue that before I sent it out on Etsy," Alano says, considering his prototype napkin holder positioned in front of him (he's considering making and selling them). "But otherwise, if you ever want to play with them again, I would not glue them. I'm sort of a pragmatist on that. The solution is to buy some that you glue and some that you repurpose."

For anyone in need of a few (or a few thousand) new bricks or minifigs, Brickworld will have you covered. More than 20 vendors will be there selling everything from custom-made bricks, personalized/engraved LEGO parts, jewelry, LEGO stickers, collectible pieces and hard-to-find minifigures.

But Bonahoom predicts one of the biggest attractions will be "The LEGO Movie" display re-creating various scenes from the box office hit. Proving what most of the brick builders already know: in the land of LEGO "Everything is Awesome."

Event details:

Brickworld Indy 2014 will run this weekend, March 8th and 9th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $9 and kids 3 and younger get in free. A number of discounts are available to military and first-responder civilians. Check Brickworld's site for more details.

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