MOORHEAD — It's a dream come true for the child in all of us: making a living playing with your favorite toy.
It's a little more complicated than that, but Dan Parker's career is all about playing with Legos, and he'll share his masterpieces with visitors this weekend at the Scandinavian Hjemkomst & Midwest Viking Festival in Moorhead.
Why Legos at a Scandinavian festival? Because the classic toy brick was born in Denmark, the featured country at this year's festival. According to its website, Lego was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen and is an abbreviation for "leg godt," which means "play well."
Parker has been "playing well" with the toy since he was a little boy, but rediscovered them at the age of 30 when Lego added new features and expanded the brand. He was "closet-building," but soon started to meet others interested in Legos.
"We formed a Lego model railroading club, which became very popular with the public," he says. "Several of us considered various ways to monetize our interests. Time was made right soon thereafter, as the engineering company I was working for laid me off. Instant opportunity to start my own business!"
Since that time, he's made more than 4,000 pieces across four formats — miniatures, mosaics, sculptures and mechanical — for clients large and small. His creations have included a 40,000-piece Statue of Liberty, a million-piece Nativity scene and a Death Star with a whopping 6-foot diameter. He says it's hard to put a time on how long it takes to build his works.
"Broadly speaking, it's the flash of inspiration and you're scrambling to write it down, the weeks/months of trial and error, or one's entire career leading up to where it could be composed. It's difficult to put some metrics on creativity," he says.
Parker, who grew up in Washington but has several relatives in the Dakotas, says he's looking forward to his first time at the Hjemkomst Center's festival.
"I'm providing a 'Play n Display' booth with Scandinavian-themed artwork along with a lot of LEGO brick (pieces) that all ages can enjoy in creative play and building," he says.
"He'll be in the third-floor atrium during the festival," says Davin Wait, the communications manager for the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, who works with the Nordic Culture Clubs to coordinate the festival. "In previous years we've had a small stage in this location, but we were looking for something more interactive and family friendly."
Festivalgoers can get hands-on with the Lego bricks and also see Parker's work at the festival. All in all, Parker wants people to walk away with an appreciation for his favorite toy.
"The Lego brand building system is remarkably creative, can be paired with other interests or hobbies and can be engaged in a range of opportunities not unlike music and sports," he says. "Aside from meeting basic human development and education needs, it's a great way to realize certain hobbies, even enjoy in a social setting. The percentage of adults building with Lego bricks today is staggering."
Parker, who says he's 60% Norwegian (not Danish), says Legos are a good fit for a festival featuring Denmark.
"Both the origins and success of the Lego company, in my reading and opinion, reflect the positive attributes, perseverance, and strong work ethic I've come to associate with Danes and those of Danish descent," he says. "While the Lego brand is truly global, it seems to strike a healthy balance between work and play — a hallmark of Danish society."
If you go
What: Scandinavian Hjemkomst & Midwest Viking Festival
Where: Hjemkomst Center and Viking Ship Park, 202 First Ave. N., Moorhead
When: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Friday, June 21, and Saturday, June 22
Info: $15 for adults, $10 for teens and seniors, free for children; extra parking (in addition to the Hjemkomst lot) is available at Moorhead Center Mall, where MATBUS will run shuttles every 15 minutes.