Suzy Lentchner didn't play with Legos during childhood. It wasn't until she was an adult with kids that the colorful bricks became a point of fascination.
On Sunday, May 17, roughly 30 years after the Ontario resident bought her eldest son his first pack of the toys, Lentchner sits behind a table in a small section of the Pasadena Convention Center as part of Legos fan event Bricks L.A. Spread out before her is a massive campsite, complete with a lake, archery range and even a bathroom, which she constructed from memories of working and playing at Holcomb Valley Scout Camp, near Big Bear, with her husband and sons.
It took a year to gather the pieces for this project. Lentchner tracked down odds and ends through a series of vendors, acquiring small parts that, in some cases, were no longer made by Lego. She made a few modifications herself, mostly stickers to add onto figures, creating looks that resembled scouting uniforms. She picked the brains of her fellow Lego club members to figure how to reconfigure a few separate parts into a sailboat. She turned toy car doors into toilet paper rolls.
Still, Lentchner isn't finished. She needs to build the handicraft station where she worked, a parking lot and a few other areas.
Lentchner gravitated towards Legos as a way to help manage her son's asthma. The medication available at the time made him more energetic, she explains, leading to another attack. Then, she stumbled upon a six-pack of Legos inside a Happy Meal and noticed how the then three-year-old boy spent hours playing with them. “The lightbulb went off in my head,” she says. “Every time he had an asthma attack, I would go buy him some more Legos.”
Building with Legos eventually became a family project; now that all three kids are out of the house, Lentchner has two rooms filled with the toys, including a closet filled with projects she has been told not to dismantle. She beams with pride when she reports that her son, now in his 30s, is a computer engineer. She believes that Legos helped get him on that path.
These days, Lentchner surmises, her personal collection has surpassed the one amassed by her kids. “I was a closet builder,” she says. Then she found out about the AFOL or Adult Fans of Lego community. She joined several hobbyist groups in Southern California and has traveled to Seattle for a major fan event called BrickCon. At the event, she met someone who had built a model of another Boy Scout camp. Lentchner thought she could one-up the builder, so she got to work. Last fall, she brought her model of Holcomb Valley Scout Camp to BrickCon. “Now we have kind of a challenge going to see whose is going to be better this year,” she says.
Scouting has been as much of a part of the lives of Lentchner and her family as Legos are. She laughs when she talks about how she was “tricked” into becoming a Cub Scout leader many years ago. She excitedly points out the references to her own family in her model. There's the climbing wall where her youngest son — now a gym owner and bouldering enthusiast — worked and the archery range that her husband handled. She inserted versions of her husband and herself near a campfire performing a skit that they were known to do during those summers.
Just as Lentchner used Legos to help her son cope with asthma, the blocks are helping her now. A little over a decade ago, Lentchner stopped working at the camp due to fibromyalgia — she now uses a wheelchair to help her get around. “I broke five wheelchairs one year because I refused to stop going to camp,” she says. When she was unable to join in the activities with her Scouts, she resigned from a position as Cubmaster too.
Legos have helped Lentchner connect with what she loves, even though she is unable to participate in physical activities, like hiking, anymore. “It's perfect for me because I can't get out and do what I used to do,” she says of Legos. “This is an outlet for the frustration of not being able to do that.” The project has also helped her remain involved in the scouting community; she's displaying the piece at the Rose Bowl for the San Gabriel Council Youth Expo on May 30. The following weekend, on June 6, her work will be part of Long Beach Area Scout-o-Rama at Heartwell Park.
Other people are finding joy in her work too. During this interview, an Eagle Scout, accompanied by a young Tiger Cub Scout checks out Lentchner's work and comments on it. Meanwhile, a steady stream of people peer inside the roofless buildings to see what kind of small details she inserted into the structures.
“A lot of my friends are like, why are you spending all of your time playing with a kid's toy?” she says. For Lentchner, an avid crafter with a fondness for leatherworking, it's good to be in an environment like Bricks L.A., where there are other adults who see Legos as more than a childhood toy.
“This is art. It takes a lot of time and a lot of ingenuity to do these things,” she says. “It's nice to be appreciated.”
Liz Ohanesian on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter: