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Ochre Jelly
Ochre Jelly

Real People in LEGO

Ochre Jelly
Ochre Jelly

Photograph by Ochre Jelly.

Depicting a person we all recognize takes talent when you use a pencil or paintbrush. Doing it with LEGO blocks takes a particular kind of talent because of the restrictions inherent in the medium. I am no art critic, just an art fan. Neither am I a LEGO expert -in fact, I have never owned a set of LEGO bricks! But I can appreciate the talent that goes into recreating real life in bricks. It's like working with pixels, except your pixels are limited to specific sizes, shapes, and colors. And these artists do wonderful things with them!

Freddie Mercury


Photograph by Ochre Jelly.

The 20th anniversary of the death of Freddie Mercury inspired Iain Heath (Ochre Jelly) to build a likeness of the Queen singer in LEGO. He unveiled it in a post about Mercury's life and accomplishments. This figure inspired this post, because I marveled at how a LEGO artist could take a set of preformed blocks and choose just the right ones to set in the right places in order to recreate a human figure we all recognize, apart and separate from the many human figures we see every day. Image by Flickr user Iain Heath.

Sarah Palin

Heath is no beginner in recreating real people in LEGO form. In 2008, he sculpted then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin doing her signature wink at the camera.

Stephen Hawking

But Ochre Jelly's best known LEGO sculpture is one that internet surfers recognize, even if they don't know who did it (I didn't, until I researched this post). Heath sculpted Stephen Hawking in LEGO in 2007, then shared the building instructions. This creation amazed us because of the minimalist method that still conveyed exactly who the figure is. See more pictures here.

Mythbusters and Other Science Figures

There have been a few LEGO minifigures that are based on real people (ignore the fact that Santa Claus is included in the list). Most were only available for sale for a short time, or were never sold to the public, instead appearing in films or video games. However, LEGO artists are pretty good at altering existing minifigs to look like someone in particular.

@mythbusters (adam savage & jamie hyneman) by pixbymaia

Maia Weinstock enshrined your favorite internet scientists, science bloggers, and other science personalities in Lego! The project is called Scitweeps, as each person is identified by their Twitter feed. How many do you recognize? See the entire collection in her Flickr set. Shown here is Weinstock's version of Mythbuster's Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. Get a closer view of the Mythbusters minifigs in another picture. Image by Flickr user pixbymaia.

Mark Twain and Other Historical Figures

Fine Clonier, a LEGO customization site, held a competition in 2007 in which artists customized minifigs into historical figures. This Mark Twain was the overall winner. See the other entries at Flickr.

Miracle on the Hudson

Real-life people and events can be recreated without customizing any minifigs at all when the perspective is different. Anyone who was around three years ago when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River will recognize this scene from the news coverage. Ken Osbon of Goshen Township, Ohio created this Lego version of the incident for BrickExpo 2010. The details are all there, from the debris in the water to the passengers on the wings.

Bella and Sebastian

Minifigures were used in this recreation of the cover of the 2005 album Push Barman to Open Old Wounds by Belle and Sebastian. Once again, the details around the minifigs make the LEGO version work. You can see an entire gallery of iconic album covers redone in LEGO at The Toy Zone.

Lt. John Pike

ONB

It only happened recently, but we've all seen the pictures. Doc Pop spent seven hours creating this LEGO diorama featuring Lt. Pike pepper-spraying a line of protesting UC Davis students. It was installed in one the many abandoned newspaper bins in San Francisco. Someone removed it less than four hours later, but the photographs remain. This scene reminds me of another campus protest incident 40 years ago that was also recreated in LEGO. Image by Flickr user docpop.

Conan O'Brien

Full-size human LEGO sculptures are another example of working in pixels, in which the shape of the bricks matters less than the placement, yet the overall effect is the same as working in pixels -just on a different scale. Brick artist Nathan Sawaya makes full-size sculptures as well as smaller artworks and mosaics. Here he poses with his full-size Conan O'Brien sculpture containing thousands of LEGO bricks. Sawaya has 1.5 million more bricks in his New York studio! Last summer, Sawaya made another sculpture of Conan in his superhero mode.

See more of Sawaya's works in his gallery. Henry Lim and Sean Kenney are other brick artists who build large-scale LEGO sculptures and mosaics that you should check out.

Of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of talented LEGO artists who recreate fictional characters, movie scenes, architecture, classical artworks, and more. See some of them at Brothers Brick, The Living Brick, and MOCpages, as well as other LEGO art sites.

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Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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holidays
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


Keystone/Getty Images

Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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