ST. COUNTY LOUIS – Sitting in the middle of the Kennedy Recreation Complex, at the southern end of St. Louis County, was a stunningly detailed replica of St. Peter’s Basilica and Square in Vatican City.
It was made entirely of Legos. Specifically, it was entirely made up of 67,000 Legos, more or less a few.
The Lego BrickUniverse fan convention held at the Kennedy Recreation Complex this weekend brought fans of the ever-popular plastic building block to stare wide-eyed at the wonders that can be created from Legos if you’ve had enough – and time.
The Vatican City replica, one of more than 40 exhibits at the show, took six months to create. It was a COVID project, said its creator, Rocco Buttliere, who said he worked on it from July to December 2020.
Buttliere, 28, from Chicago, is a professional Lego artist. It recreates important architectural landmarks from around the world from Legos and exhibits them at shows like the one this weekend.
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Buttliere had loved Legos since childhood, and when he was in high school he became interested in architecture, he said. He graduated with a degree in architecture five years ago.
“I skipped office work and went straight to Legos full time,” he said.
At one table, he displayed photos of some of the works he has made to order, including a replica of first-century Jerusalem for the Museum of the Imagination in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This one took 114,000 Legos to build.
Lego fan Frank Sanders, 9, of University City, was in Lego heaven at the convention. He was particularly taken with an exhibition that mixed several films (the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the car from “Ghostbusters”, some Transformers and more). He was also hit by a Lego Batman and a Lego character from Pokémon.
Naturally, Frank builds Lego displays himself. Part of his bedroom is devoted to Lego creations – the Hundred Acre Wood from “Winnie the Pooh,” “Sesame Street” – but he also separates some of his work when he needs to use the pieces for something else.
Lucas Ostertag, 10, of Dupo, Illinois, is also a Lego fan; together with his mother Kathy, he built a veterinary practice. They had previously built a version of Santa’s Workshop, but the season changed, so they redirected their efforts.
“I really wanted to set it on fire, but she wouldn’t let me,” he said with obvious disappointment.
Kathy Ostertag turns out to be the biggest fan.
“I never had Legos when I was little, but every time I went to people’s house to babysit, that’s the first thing I said – ‘Let’s get the Legos out,'” said she declared.
If adults did not outnumber children at the Sunday afternoon event, their numbers were at least equal. Exhibitor Brian Kelly, 50, of Dallas, had a display aimed at older fans.
Kelly’s specialty is space Legos, and her display started with the classic Legos theme from 1978 to 1980 and worked chronologically through Galaxy Squad from 2013. The evolution was clear, moving from square spaceships which now look delightfully naïve to rounded, colorful, bug-shaped space vehicles.
“It’s nostalgic. Every mum or dad that passes by says, ‘I used to play with this when I was your age’ or ‘I have this somewhere in the house,'” he said.
Brad Alsop, 38, didn’t have to travel as far as some other exhibitors to show his creations; he lives in Saint-Louis. Alsop makes the bodies of the electric guitars out of Legos, and he plays them periodically at the event to show that they actually work.
While he also brought massive display to the castle, it was his Lego outdoor concert hall that attracted the most attention. On stage there are performances of the group MercyMe (he is friends with the group), as well as Elvis Presley.
He asked the group who they wanted to be on the Lego stage with them. They said Elvis. So he’s the one he put there.
But it was the crowd of some 900 Lego people enjoying the music that caught the most attention. Keen-eyed attendees could find Waldo, as well as C-3PO and R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” Kermit the Frog, and, to safety, the Incredible Hulk.