CSU English professor by day, LEGO enthusiast by night

Some people spend their free time reading, collecting stamps or looking for virtual Pokémon characters.

Doug Cloud blocks out time to build LEGO creations.

lego 8Cloud, an assistant professor of English at Colorado State University, recently combined his brick-laying talent with his job, crafting a strikingly accurate scale model of the newly renovated Eddy Hall, where his department is based.

He says he took lots of pictures of the real building before constructing the miniature version over a two-week period. Details in his LEGO Eddy include a red-headed character resembling department head Louann Reid sitting behind her desk, fellow faculty member and cyclist Tim Amidon on a bike, staffer Sheila Dargon in one of her signature vests, and a worker on the roof, which was seeing lots of repairs at the time.

“It’s tricky to replicate people,” he says. “Sometimes it works if they have a distinctive characteristic. Someone pointed out that one figure looks like the college’s IT director, Bryan Gillispie.”

Cloud included himself, too. “I’m the little guy sneaking off for a hike with my backpack and headphones.”

lego 4A rekindled hobby

Like many people, he started playing with LEGO bricks as a kid. By high school he had given them up, but his mother kept them.

“Then my parents were packing up for a move, and they told me to take them if I wanted them,” recalls Cloud, who was in graduate school at the time. “I started working with them again four or five years ago, over a Thanksgiving break. I always tell moms to store their kids’ LEGO sets when they lose interest, because they may come back to it like I did. These toys really last, and they’re not cheap, so parents should keep them.”

Today he’s a member of CoWLUG — the Colorado/Wyoming LEGO User Group. His basement is lined with shelves, drawers, tool chests and even an old library card catalog filled with the miniature blocks and bearing labels such as “hatches and hinges,” “palisade brick” and “stairs and ladders.”

“I can find just about any piece in two seconds,” Cloud says. “When I was a kid, my Christmas list was all about LEGO, and now it’s all that’s on my list again.”

He assembles his displays at Colorado events like Maker Faires, Comic Cons and model train shows. Cloud, whose work will appear at the NoCo Mini Maker Faire Oct. 7-9 at The Ranch Event Center in Loveland, specializes in portraying medieval times.

“I don’t usually do modern scenes,” he says. “For Eddy I made an exception.”

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Three original creations — these aren’t the ready-made sets that come with assembly instructions — are set up on tables in his basement. There is an agrarian scene featuring fields of flowers, corn and cabbage situated around a lighthouse; a sea-battered castle tower with a mermaid; and a village scene that includes a marketplace, church and blacksmith’s shop. Among the tiny details are a medieval chandelier hanging from a rope and pulley system that was needed in that era to lower it to light its candles. A nearby beach has a contemporary flair: a windsurfing knight.

“Normally I’d have a bigger ocean, but there is a shortage of blue base plates,” Cloud says. “They’re out of print right now, but they’ll be back, I’m sure.”

Social issues and LEGO

While he hasn’t yet found a way to tie his favorite pastime into his teaching or research at CSU, sometimes he uses his creations to raise awareness.

lego 3“It’s interesting to see kids read the scene,” he explains. “If I have two queens in a castle, do they ask where the king is? And how do the parents handle that? There’s a little bit of social justice in it. The intent is not to educate people, but just give them a nudge regarding the traditional way we look at a castle scene.”

He does see parallels between constructing LEGO creations and teaching rhetoric and composition.

“Being a writing professor, I have to say that building a large LEGO structure is a lot like writing a paper,” Cloud says. “You do a first draft and then make adjustments.”

As for the Eddy Hall creation, he’s hoping it can be put on permanent display — as long as it can be contained in a lockable case that doesn’t receive direct sunlight, which can fade the bricks.

His nieces and nephews were at first curious about their uncle having such a youth-oriented hobby.

“For a while they struggled with the idea that adults play with LEGO, but now they want me to send them photos of what I’m working on,” Cloud says.

lego 7LEGO has lasted

He adds that one reason the tiny brick sets have stayed popular for so many decades is that they have stayed consistent.

“You can take a piece from the mid-1950s and put it together with one made yesterday,” Cloud explains.

The most challenging objects to reassemble for shows? Trees.

“They always fall apart, you have to rebuild them every time,” Cloud says. “They drive me mad.”

He estimates that he has spent thousands of dollars on LEGO pieces over the years.

“I bought three copies of one set just to get eight roof corner pieces that I needed for a show,” he recalls.

The most rewarding thing about LEGO, Cloud says, is knowing kids — and even adults — are inspired to dig out their old sets after seeing one of his scenes.

“People say to me, ‘When we get home, I know my kids are going to break out their LEGO bricks again,’” he says. “And that’s very gratifying.”

The Department of English is part of CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.