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Meet the Women of the Masterpiece Gallery 2023

Published June 1, 2024 By Caleb Inman | 0 Comments
Kelly Bartlett’s Chocolate Shop, photographed by Alice Finch
A photo of the LEGO creation Chocolate Shop by Kelly Bartlett, on display in the Masterpiece Gallery in the LEGO House
Kelly Bartlett’s Chocolate Shop displayed in the Masterpiece Gallery at the LEGO House

Inspiring others is one of the cornerstones of the Women’s Brick Initiative mission. Today, we’re excited to share with you a behind-the-scenes look at some talented creators who have inspired us! Join us as we talk with three illustrious and imaginative builders who made history with their MOCs (which stands for My Own Creations), which are on display right now in the LEGO House in Billund, Denmark! These women were among a small group of artists invited by LEGO to display their masterpieces in the LEGO House’s aptly named “Masterpiece Gallery” from 2023 to 2024. Please welcome Veronica Young, Kelly Bartlett, and Gayle Spiller as they share their stories, their own inspirations, and their adventures at the LEGO House!

WBI: Thank you all for talking to me today, and for sharing your enthusiasm for LEGO with our readers. I want to start off by saying how much of a delight it has been to research you and your LEGO experience, and marvel at the creations and art you have made. Your displays in the LEGO House Masterpiece Gallery are incredible, but they only scratch the surface of the LEGO wonders you have created. So before we begin, I want to encourage our readers to visit your online profiles and galleries at these links!

Veronica Young: https://www.instagram.com/vozzy67/

Kelly Bartlett: https://www.instagram.com/kellybartlett31

Gayle Spiller: https://www.instagram.com/gaylespiller

WBI: Now I’m very excited to get to know each of you. Can you start by telling me a bit about yourself, your background, and how you came by the LEGO hobby?

Veronica: Hi, my name is Veronica Young. I’m 56 and live in Geelong, Victoria (Australia). I’m a full time carer to my husband and youngest (25) son.

I, like most people, had LEGO growing up. My husband and kids were into it. We went to a few exhibitions in Melbourne and decided to join up after my husband was diagnosed with his lung condition and had to give up work at 39! LEGO filled a void that kept him occupied and busy. I loved meeting fellow exhibitors and tried my hand at building my own MOCs. That was my start and each exhibition I grew with ideas.

A photo of Veronica Young and her husband with Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen at the LEGO House Masterpiece Gallery
(Left to right) Veronica Young, Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, and Veronica’s husband at the LEGO House Masterpiece Gallery

Kelly: My interest in LEGO began when I was about four years old. My brother and I grew up playing with our town, castle, pirate, and forestmen sets. I never made a lot of MOCs as a kid, but just enjoyed building sets and using them as the basis of my storytelling and creative play.

When my own kids got into LEGO building, I saw how LEGO sets had evolved from when I was a kid. There were now themes geared toward adults and advanced builders, and they contained so many new types and colors of pieces that didn’t exist in sets from the eighties. It was specifically the modular buildings that brought me out of my dark age. 

A photo of Kelly Bartlett standing in front of her two creations displayed in the Masterpiece Gallery
Kelly Bartlett with her creations in the LEGO House Masterpiece Gallery

Gayle: I live in Oxfordshire, UK. I’m a wife and mother of one. My journey into LEGO began alongside my son’s. First, when we became pass holders to LEGOLAND Windsor, then, as we made projects together for school. We also enjoyed building sets, collecting the minifigure series and playing LEGO computer games. My son gradually moved on to other interests but my passion for LEGO has continued.  

A photo of Gayle Spiller standing with Alice Finch beside Gayle's creations displayed in the Masterpiece Gallery
(Left to Right) Alice Finch and Gayle Spiller with Gayle’s creations in the LEGO House Masterpiece Gallery

WBI: I love hearing that each of your LEGO experiences started as a way to spend time with family. I know LEGO was a favorite pastime for my siblings and I growing up. It’s amazing how families inspire us to see the world in special ways. Where else have you found inspiration for your work outside of the LEGO community? Do you have experiences unrelated to LEGO that you use to fuel your creativity?

Veronica: I find inspiration in lots of things. We go to a lot of opshops (charity shops) and something will grab my attention and I’ll think how can I enhance that with LEGO. My favourite was a lady’s face sculpture and I made her into Mother’s Earth.

A photo of the LEGO creation "Mother Earth" by Veronica Young, depicting a sculpture of a woman's face and hand surrounded by colorful LEGO parts
Veronica Young’s creation Mother Earth

Gayle: I take inspiration from art, cinema, comics, architecture.  I’ll often take photos or screenshots of things that catch my eye with the intention of trying to recreate them later in LEGO. Other times ideas will just pop into my head and I’ll run with it. 

Kelly: My background is in education, and I work for our state library association on a reading program for kids in grades 3-12. In my work, I read A LOT of children’s books that range from picture books, easy readers, middle grade chapter books, young adult novels, and graphic novels. I love reading, especially children’s literature. Children’s authors have a way of tackling important and sometimes difficult topics in a way that is emotional and relatable yet easy to understand.

Both in books and in LEGO builds, I am drawn toward a good story. I like making my own creations that tell a story either directly or indirectly. Just like words written in a book, a LEGO creation can draw a viewer into a scene or world with its setting, characters, emotions, and events.

A close-up photograph of Kelly's LEGO creation Clockmaker's Studio, showing several grandfather clocks, pendulum clocks and a cuckoo clock
Close-up image of Kelly Bartlett’s Clockmaker’s Studio

WBI: Kelly, you certainly have an innate sense of storytelling and creating a scene. What two adjectives would you use to describe your building style and the things you make from LEGO?

Kelly: Detailed. Organic (evokes a sense of life).

WBI: Veronica and Gayle, what words would you use to describe your LEGO creativity?

Veronica: Two adjectives to describe my style would be quirky and colorful because I like to do weird stuff 😂

Gayle: Others will often describe my builds as whimsical. I think it may be more accurate to describe them, to quote from the LEGO Movie, as a “hodgepodge.”

A beautiful LEGO creation of a majestic ship with butterflies for sails, shown on a sea of lights and beneath a moon-filled sky.  The creator's note says the depiction is inspired by a painting by Vladimir Kush.
Gayle Spiller’s creation The Winged Ship

WBI: So as it happens, Gayle, I (the author) wasn’t aware of your work before writing this interview, but I’m so grateful this project introduced me to your work. Taking in your Instagram page is like walking through an illustrious art exhibit. Your photoshop skills are incredible, and you obviously create MOCs with the eventual photograph in mind. How was the LEGO House experience different for you, with creations that would be in a display case, instead of photographed from a specific angle?

Gayle: The preparation for the LEGO House exhibition took months. I had to rebuild several creations from scratch as I tend to reuse pieces for other projects. The structural integrity had to be sound as well as aesthetically pleasing. Also, it was important for the pieces to look as finished at the back as they are from the front.

WBI: Check out Gayle’s page for photos and videos of her models being redesigned for the LEGO house, such as this 360 video of Hut on the Rocks.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CxKY1tVonkB

WBI: Your creativity is so evident through your use of themes and colors, but it also feels like your builds may have deeper meanings. Are there any hidden stories behind a build you’ve made that you’d like to share with us?

Gayle: Down the Rabbit Hole build, although superficially bright and light hearted is really an allegory for what can happen when you let bad mental practices spiral and take hold. 

A photo of a colorful LEGO creation depicting a tree in autumn with a mysterious tunnel in it, a rabbit entering the tunnel, and Alice and the Cheshire Cat looking on
Gayle Spiller’s Down the Rabbit Hole

WBI: Veronica, your dress is one of the most surreal things I’ve ever seen created from LEGO parts. It’s hard to wrap my brain around something so flowy and organic being made from such a discrete, rigid element like a LEGO brick. Can you tell me what went into selecting the “material” so to speak from which to make this garment?

Veronica: Thank you. It has to be my favorite so far!

I had a heap of the limb elements and started playing around with them until I made a snowflake shape which became the base of the spine piece of the dress. They always reminded me of lace. Can I mention it is not glued anywhere!!

A photo of a white and colorful wedding dress train, on display in the Masterpiece Gallery, made from LEGO parts, especially LEGO leaf elements
Train of Veronica Young’s Wedding Dress, photographed by Alice Finch

WBI: Unlike most clothing, with LEGO you can take it apart and put it back together again with ease. Has this come in handy for the wedding dress?

Veronica: Yes it has at Brickvention 2023 in Melbourne. Fleur Watkins (LEGO Masters Australia) agreed to wear it.

It was terrifying, lol! It was created on the mannequin so I wasn’t sure whether it would fall apart when taken off. But she walked around the Royal Exhibition Building for over an hour in it. I did have to do some minor alterations but it worked at the time.

I also altered it for LEGO House Masterpiece Gallery. I made the train more rounded, filled in the gaps at the bottom and had to take it off the mannequin to add a slip/petticoat to cover the bottom half of the mannequin so you couldn’t see through which made it stand out more.

A photo of Veronica Young standing with Fleur Watkins, who competed on LEGO Masters Australia.  Fleur is wearing the LEGO wedding dress made by Veronica.
(Left to right) Veronica Young standing with Fleur Watkins, who is wearing the Wedding Dress at Brickvention 2023.  Photo borrowed from BrickNerd (link directs to BrickNerd).

WBI: Do you consider yourself to be a fashion designer or a LEGO creator? Or both?

Veronica: Creator yes, fashion designer NO! I can’t sew, knit, crochet or anything like that! I can cook though. 😉 But I can create something out of LEGO that brings me joy and if other people appreciate it too, then that’s a bonus.

A photo of Veronica Young in the LEGO Masterpiece Gallery, sitting while assembling part of her LEGO wedding dress, which is on a black mannequin
Veronica Young prepares her Wedding Dress for display at the LEGO House

WBI: Kelly, I was privileged enough to see your Chocolate Shop in person at Bricks Cascade in Portland, Oregon. I came back multiple times to just take it in, because there are so many details, and they are all executed so perfectly. What are some of the most fulfilling details for you to include in scenes like this and your Clockmaker’s Studio?

Kelly: My favorite details to include are the ones people don’t notice right away. I love it when a MOC makes me say “wow” before I realize why. It’s usually because it contains details that contribute to the overall impact of the MOC without immediately jumping out as the center of attention. The details that don’t seem important are exactly the ones that bring a MOC to life. Those are my favorite kind to build…like the fold in a shopping bag, stains and cracks in the walls, a pattern of negative space in the floor, or texture in the surfaces. The most fulfilling details for me are the ones that subtly give a MOC its “wow factor”; the ones you see only when you take a closer look.

A photo of the LEGO creation Chocolate Shop, by Kelly Bartlett, depicting a colorful store interior with sweets of many different types in bins and behind display cases, plus menus, lamps in the ceiling, stools, and a table
Kelly Bartlett’s Chocolate Shop… makes you want to take a closer look, right?

WBI: Your creations look so full of life, despite not containing any people-characters. What do you think causes this effect?

Kelly: Building a MOC without characters is basically setting the scene for a story. And a setting can have as much character as an actual character. So even without a human in the scene, you can give an empty room some personality and quirks that bring it to life and make the space its own character. Again, it comes back to the details…figuring out the right balance of uniqueness that will give the room its personality.

The other thing about a “characteristic-but-empty” room is that the viewer gets to wonder about the story that is taking place there. Without a main character, you get a snapshot of a scene in which someone has just stepped away. You are seeing the world they just left, and you get to put yourself in their environment and imagine what it’s like to be there. With the right details in the build, a viewer’s brain fills in the gaps about the story and brings it to life in their unique way.

A photo of the Lego Creation Clockmaker's Studio by Kelly Bartlett, showing a cozy store with clocks of many different styles lining the walls, a desk chair and desk with tools, and an organizer with clock parts
Caption: Kelly Bartlett’s Clockmaker’s Studio

WBI: Your builds are not only extremely detail-oriented, but also full of tactful aesthetic choices. Can you tell me about how aesthetic design plays into your creativity?

Kelly: Just as it’s possible for something to be aesthetically pleasing but not very creative, it’s equally possible for something to be creative but not aesthetically pleasing. To make something that is both is an art and is what I strive for when I build LEGO MOCs. I always start with an idea, and once I figure out the logistics of building it, I aim to make it look as visually appealing as possible. LEGO art is about finding that balance of form and function.

A close-up photograph of Kelly Bartlett's Chocolate Shop countertop, displaying a pattern that evokes dripping chocolate
Caption: Close-up image of Kelly Bartlett’s Chocolate Shop

WBI: It has been such a pleasure seeing each of your incredible talents and learning about your sources of inspiration. For all the creative minds who will now look up to you as leading figures in the LEGO community, can you share the most valuable advice you have to give to other creators?

Veronica: I’m not a leading figure in the community, I have a lot of wonderfully talented, inspiring women and men friends who deserve the accolades but I was just lucky to be noticed.

Advice to Newbies:

Find a local LEGO group near you, go to meetings and talk to everyone there–they are one of the best sources of information, inspiration, encouragement and advice.

Next, go to exhibitions and talk to the exhibitors. Most will be happy to talk to you about how they made their MOC’s and their building techniques.

Start small, build a kit if you are only that far along in your LEGO journey but add to it into a diorama to enhance the story you want to tell. Five people given the same kit will design five totally different displays from it, so work up from there.

My most valuable advice is to just take a handful of pieces out on your table and play around with them. Play with shapes, colours, etc. and how they are supposed to go together to how you want them to go together.

Just Play. ❤️

Kelly: Build like you have a story in mind. Even if your build does not have an actual character in it, give it unique characteristics that will bring it to life.  Adding details (not necessarily a lot of details, but the right details) will invite viewers into the scene you’re creating and give it a “wow factor.”

Also, be willing to take your time, and be meticulous and intentional. This means you might have to un-build and re-build many times until your MOC looks and feels the way you want. 

Gayle: Build for yourself. If others like what you do, that’s a bonus. Don’t worry about likes and follows; a connection with just one person can sometimes be more meaningful. As the saying goes: “Be you, everyone else is taken”.

A photo of the LEGO creation The Black Family Tapestry, depicting a family tree from the Harry Potter franchise. The tree is built with creative tan elements forming an organic shape, and minifigure heads are used to represent people on the family tree.
Caption: Gayle Spiller’s creation The Black Family Tapestry

WBI: Please give a big thank you to these three talented and inspiring LEGO creators, and check out their social media accounts. Stay tuned on the Women’s Brick Initiative blog for future articles featuring many more amazing creators, as we dig deep into some interesting topics. Until next time!

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