Brickfair Virginia: fourteen builders from six countries collaborate to commemorate the Vietnam War [Feature]

Last year, after Brickfair Virginia 2017, over a few drinks Magnus Lauglo, Aleksander Stein and I had a discussion on what to bring for 2018. The three of us have been attending BrickFair for years and have often admired the large collaborative displays at the event, with builders creating something together. Because of this we figured it would be nice for us to collaborate too rather than bringing our own stand-alone models. We soon agreed to build scenes from the Vietnam War.

I suspect that most ideas that come out of conversations in bars lead nowhere and that is probably a good thing. However, earlier this year we found that we were still pretty excited about this idea and we found that more people wanted to get involved. Ultimately, eleven more builders contributed (in no particular order): Peter Dornbach, Stijn van der LaanMatt Hacker, Dean Roberts, Eínon, Evan Melick, Casey Mungle, Corvin, Yasser Mohran, Bret Harris and Brian Carter. Corvin, Aleksander and I are the only builders who don’t live in the US or Canada to regularly attend the Virginia event, but our Vietnam group turned out to be a pretty international crowd. We had builders who live in six different countries: the US, Denmark, Switzerland, Portugal, Norway and the Netherlands.

We picked Vietnam as the subject because we all watched classic Vietnam War movies when growing up, it is largely novel for most of us and it is far less common for military builds than models from, say, WW2. We considered building a single collaborative battle diorama, but chose to build separate scenes instead. It is hard to find a single battle that is actually interesting to build, as there is usually just a lot of terrain involved and multiple copies of trees, bunkers or vehicles. Separate scenes have the advantage of allowing different builders to give the subject their own twist. I was excited to see what the other guys came up with. The Vietnam War offers a lot of scope for building interesting military hardware, but we could also show some of the history, including the aftermath. Given the wide range of different models on display, we nailed it.

We had models of aircraft, ships, vehicles, helicopters and surface-to-air missiles, from both sides of the conflict. However, we also had a helicopter lifting people off a building during the fall of Saigon in 1975, a display that shows the search for remains of MIAs and an impressive minifig scale rendition of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. The Vietnam War is still within living memory, with actual veterans attending the show together with their children and grandchildren, so we tried very much to be respectful. The responses we got were overwhelmingly positive and it was great fun to display these models as a group. We’re already thinking about what to do next year.

7 comments on “Brickfair Virginia: fourteen builders from six countries collaborate to commemorate the Vietnam War [Feature]

  1. Craig

    It would have been nice to see builds commemorating the victims of the US imperial invasion and occupation of Vietnam (one of the most catastrophic foreign policy decisions of all time), rather than models commemorating the American genocidal perpetrators.

  2. Ralph Post author

    @Craig: Perhaps you dind’t read the whole thing or didn’t look at the gallery, but we did have models to represent the North. Thank you.

  3. Mark Anderson

    It was an impressive collaboration, and for me the tunnel scenes immediately recalled reading Tom Mangold’s “The Tunnels of Cu Chi” in high school. Also, I appreciate the unintentional cameo for HaRdLUG in the background of the group photo.

  4. Mark Anderson

    I think the biggest lesson of Vietnam was learning to honor the soldiers without endorsing the cause or ignoring the atrocities of war. And it’s a lesson that still needs to be taught.

  5. Ralph Post author

    @Mark I think Magnus, who built the tunnel system, had been reading The Tunnels of Cu Chi and it was one of the inspirations for his model, so he’d appreciate your comment. I’d like to think we did a reasonable job of depicting some of the war. It’s a fascinating part of history and most people at the event seemed to appreciate the effort. That the Fall of Saigon won “best military diorama” is testament to that.

  6. Legoinsel

    while I have no doubts your models are great I still think rebuilding war (especially non-fictional) with kids toys shouldn’t be cheered at so much as it is within the Lego community.

  7. Ralph Post author

    We’re a bunch of LEGO fans who happen to have an interest in military technology (professionally in some cases), who have seen movies and read books about the war in Vietnam and are interested in the history. That’s what inspired this display.

    Like it or not, conflict is part of the human condition and I don’t see why people shouldn’t use LEGO to represent that. It can be so much more than a kids’ toy.

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