The mayor of LEGO World

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Carol Shafto shows how she uses a small LEGO tool to help her place tiny LEGO pieces into place. In this photo, she is using it to properly seat a wire that connects light to one of the LEGO creations.

ALPENA — Carol Shafto describes her collection of LEGO and her love for assembling them into pieces of art as an addiction.

Her passion for her hobby is clear when she discusses her creations which range from a large replica of The Coliseum and the Great Pyramid to smaller figurines like Harry Potter, Spiderman, and even Santa.

Her LEGO creations offer a lesson in geography and a tip of the cap to pop culture trends that are popular today.

Shafto said she initially purchased LEGO for her children, who didn’t particularly care for them, but years later when she was introduced to the adult-level building blocks, she became obsessed with working on the intricate models that she proudly displays in her home in Alpena.

She said she has about 200,000 LEGO, including special tools she uses to put small parts into their property places during the building process.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Carol Shafto shows off the instruction book for her latest LEGO project which is a replica of the Taj Mahal in India.

Shafto is the former mayor of Alpena and has traveled the world. Many of her LEGO creations are of places she has visited and landmarks she has seen in person.

She has LEGO flowers, wall art, and even a globe that she installed a specially designed light kit that illuminates the Earth when turned on.

Shafto said when she looks at the miniature streetscapes of Paris, London, and other places she has assembled from LEGO blocks, it invokes memories from when she experienced the in-person visits. She said, as a LEGO enthusiast, when a new limited product is released, she is always one of the first to order it before it becomes unavailable.

She said working with LEGO has been a part of her life since she purchased the first set about three decades ago, but really didn’t dive in and become the enthusiast she is today until more recently.

“I really became obsessed with them about 15 years ago,” she said. “There is a difference between enjoying LEGO and being an addict. I actually have a line item in my budget for LEGO.”

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A miniature version of the Statue of Liberty made of LEGO blocks towers over the living room of Carol Shafto. She has dozens of LEGO creations displayed in her home.

She has saved the boxes, instructions, and thousands of spare parts organized by color, shape, and size neatly stored in her house and the final products, when completed, are arranged for her guests to admire and for her to reflect on. Shafto said over the years, LEGO has morphed from something anyone can use to create, to something that is complex, takes time to use properly, and is often, challenging to finish.

“In the beginning, LEGO was very simplistic, but now they are 3-D puzzles and very intricate ones,” she said. “The instructions were easy to read and comprehend and the pieces were larger. Now, the ones that are labeled 18 and up and come with a full book of assembly instructions. They are complicated and often I have to go back five or six steps in the instructions to get something right.”

Shafto said because of the cost of her hobby, when she gets a new set, she takes her time to assemble the kit because she wants the experience of pulling the parts together and seeing the theme that its form to last as long as possible.

“I would spend ten times as much time as I do now working on LEGO, if I could afford it,” Shafto said. “I just kind of putz with them until I’m done. I don’t want to finish them too quickly because once they’re done, they’re done and I have to wait until next month when I can order more.”

Shafto said she budgets $75 a month for LEGO kits, but often that doesn’t cover the cost of a larger and more intricate set. She said at times, if there are sets she must have, she will purchase several at one time, but then has to go months before she is able to make another order.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A wall showing the Earth that is made of LEGO hangs in Carol Shafto’s home in Alpena. Shafto said she has about 200,000 LEGO in her collection.

Shafto said she enjoys connecting with other LEGO enthusiasts and connects with them on social media groups where they share photos of their collections, provide advice, as well as compliment and motivate each other. She said a LEGO club in Alpena would be wonderful because it would allow people to come together in person to discuss and enjoy their hobby together while socializing.

“I would love it if this story helped to form a club in Alpena,” she said.

Shafto offered some advice to new LEGO users or those who are still in the early stages of learning the ropes of the hobby.

She said a person should purchase a small and inexpensive set to get a feel for what they are doing and to see if they even enjoy it. She said then gradually move up to larger and more complex models as their ability and familiarity with LEGO expands. She also recommended doing research and picking a product that fits an interest that you have.

“Go on LEGO.com and look at all of them,” she said. “There are thousands of kits. Decide what it is you are truly interested in and it is more enjoyable to collect in your interest group, whether that is Harry Potter, Star Wars, or places around the world. Do what you are drawn to.”

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz A globe made of LEGO made by Alpena’s Carol Shafo sits near the piano in her home. Shafto installed a custom-designed set of lights to accent the model.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Carol Shafto lifts the top off her LEGO replica of the Great Pyramid to show off the details of the interior of it.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz LEGO renditions of The Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote are displayed on a shelf in the home of Carol Shafto. The two characters are joined with other pop culture figures like Harry Potter, Spiderman, and even Santa.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Carol Shafto shows off some of the attractions from around the world, including landmarks from Washington DC.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Carol Shafto holds a decoration she built out of LEGO that is displayed in her home.

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz Carol Shafto shows off her LEGO replica of The Colosseum she built. She said the project features about 10,000 pieces and had to be done in large, but detailed sections.


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