This is a post I have been thinking about writing for the last couple of years, but it has been too difficult to put my feelings into words; remembering Heather Braathen, also known as HeatherLEGOgirl. Heather was a big part of the LEGO fan community, and she also had a profound effect on me…
When Heather went missing on March 20th in 2012, the entire LEGO community pulled together to help finding her. LEGO bloggers blogged, LEGO forum members alerted their networks, and everybody prayed for her safe return. This is a testimony of the connectedness of the LEGO fan community, and it is also an indication of the influence Heather had on others – so many people knew her and wanted to help. It was a stressful couple of weeks for everyone who knew her…
Then on April 2nd, exactly two years ago, it was announced that Heather’s body has been found the previous day. She was only 35 years old when she passed away. It was difficult to hear, and difficult to believe. And while I have absolutely no intention of making light of the events, I also can’t help thinking that only someone like Heather would have chosen April Fools’ Day to be found; she was always full of fun and jokes. April’s first couple of days haven’t been quite the same for me ever since…
HeatherLEGOgirl has been a very active member of the Seattle, WA area LEGO community, and also actively participated in LEGO conventions (especially BrickCon), where she was known for her friendly smile and bubbly personality. Actually, her traits of being so welcoming and approachable can’t be overstated. Adult LEGO fans tend to be somewhat reclusive, and while LEGO conventions are fun, they could also feel intimidating with all those people around. I have read many memories of how Heather made others feel welcome and helped them warm up to LEGO events and meet others.
Heather was also a very talented and accomplished LEGO builder. Her incredibly detailed dollhouses are well-known. I have also featured here her brick-built LEGO figures she called Darlings here: How to Make Cute LEGO Minifig “Darlings”. There has been flickr group put together in the memory of Heather where you can see many of her LEGO creations, and personal pictures and stories people share about her. See here: Heather Braaten Memorial Group
Heather had also commented here on Sarah’s article, The World of Female LEGO Fans – PART 3: Sarah’s Story. She wrote: “I hope your research is going well. I’ve been building with LEGO since I was five years old and I admit it’s an addiction I don’t care to find a cure for. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many female fans of LEGO since getting into the community aspect of the hobby and I have to say that we’re quite a diverse bunch. Our numbers are growing and I hope that trend keeps up. It’s discussions like these that bring new members to the fold. Thank you.”
As I have mentioned Heather also had a profound effect on me. When I started to become interested in the LEGO hobby after several years of hiatus, my first question was if it was okay and normal for an adult to “play with LEGO”. After discovering the online LEGO community and seeing all the amazing stuff people were building, I have come to the conclusion that yes, it was indeed okay to play with LEGO as a grown-up. However I was still feeling somewhat uneasy, because all of those awesome LEGO creations I have seen online seemed to be from guys. So my next question was that although it may be okay for adult guys to build with LEGO, what about gals? Are there any adult female LEGO builders out there? After some time I ran into Heather’s flickr gallery (unfortunately now deleted), and that was it for me; due to her influence and example I fully came out of my shell as a LEGO fan (in fact that’s when I started this blog). Heather was not just an awesome female LEGO builder, but she was also totally open about it. If you saw her flickr gallery a good portion of the pictures were all about her social interactions around LEGO. Heather was pretty, talented, and made being an FFOL (Female-Fan-of-LEGO) just plain cool. No more “only guys can build with LEGO”, or “LEGO is only for nerds”. Since that time I have met other amazing female LEGO builders, but Heather will always be the first for me and I will always remain grateful for that…
This is just my story and how HeatherLEGOgirl influenced me, but there are many-many other people who share similar experiences with her, whether they have met her in person or have only seen her work online. With her friendly personality she had touched the lives of people both inside and outside the LEGO community. She was not just a talented LEGO builder and important part of LEGO conventions, but also a graphic designer, wife, and mother of two young children. And what I have heard she was also a formidable Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit player.
This was the official announcement about Heather’s passing by her family: “Heather was a loving mother to James and Lauren Braaten, daughter to Leo and Robin Schmitz, sister to Ian Schmitz and wife to Jason Braaten. Passed March 20th, 2012. She will always be in our hearts, always remembered, and always loved. Heather was a very creative, artistic, and brilliant woman. She was very influential in the LEGO community as an adult fan, and created masterpieces in that medium. She knew trivia that was shocking to those who knew her – how she could possibly know these answers? Playing Trivial Pursuit spelled certain doom for anyone willing to challenge her. She was very witty and had one of the best senses of humor known. She had a knack for making you smile with her quick wit. Not a day will pass that she isn’t missed.”
If you knew Heather (either in person or from online) and would like to share some of your experiences, feel free to do so in the comment section below. It is important to keep alive the memory of persons who had a positive effect on us (whether LEGO related or not), and even more importantly, to let them know that we appreciate them while they are still with us. We may never have the chance again…
And you might also like to check out the following related posts:
Admin, you have it listed she vanished March 20, 2014. The darlings are cute.
Sorry about that. I originally was going to write that it was the anniversary of her disapperance on that day, then later changed it and forgot to change the year. Thanks for catching that.
Your Welcome, the Dollhouse is cool and detailed.
that dollhouse was very detailed and cool!
Sad. However I had no idea (I’m still new to the Lego community). That doll house is awesome looking, and so is that giant spider. 😀
I remembered when the Brickset article came up about her disappearance. It’s really a tragic incident.
Yeah… very tragic indeed. I hope she is in a more peaceful place now with lots of LEGO to build with. She was such an inspirational person.
I think we should continue Heather’s legacy . Maybe, help someone to fit in when they feel that they don’t.
That’s a very important point and something we can all do. Thanks for mentioning it.
That Dollhouse is eye candy. I don’t like building in anything other then non minifig scale, but the amount of detail in her minibuilds, (chairs, painting,) causes me to reconsider a bit.
Yes, very lovely. BTW, they were built for LEGO figs also, but the larger ones made for the LEGO Belville sets. And I guess you can always try building something similar in minifig scale.
Oh, I have an idea. how about making wrist bands to remember Heather(LEGOgirl) Braaten. Maybe, pass them out in some LEGO events and tell people about her.
That’s a very nice idea. I also know her friends are doing a memorial MOC for her every year at BrickCon.
Admin, While is spelled “wile” where it talks about LEGO conventions.
Thanks for noticing that. I’m so going to strangle my spell-checker! 👿
The spell-checker on Prezi seemed like it was in a different language! 👿
aww, my guess on how to make smileys was wrong 🙁
Fixed it for ya. It supposed to be evil not devil.
What is the one you did? teeth?
Why’d she die (as in was it kidnapping and murder, overdose, freak accident)?
It is probably not appropriate to discuss that here for the sake of her family and of her memory. But to not leave you hanging either, I have read that depression and some medication was involved. It is not clear if the medication induced the depression or the other way around. Her family shared as much as they felt was right. It is best to focus on how she lived and what she contributed rather than how she passed away. I believe that’s the best way to remember her…
I agree. But, and not to be rude, how can she have gotten depressed, with all that Lego stuff to build and be happy with. It could be deeper than that, but it doesn’t seem logical to me…maybe I’m just too young. 😕 When I feel down, I try to forget about my biology work and go make something with my Lego 😉 it usually works.
Depression is actually a serious medical illness. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with being unhappy, although some people also use the word depression when they are just temporarily sad or distressed. Also, depression can be a serious side-effect of taking medication for something else, like for example chronic pain, sleeping disorders, etc. So yeah, being unhappy and suffering from depression is not the same thing. BTW, that is a very good question, and if you have never met a person who suffers from clinical depression you would have the understanding that it just means someone is temporarily sad. LEGO can fix that one, clinical depression is an entirely different demon to fight.
Oh. Ok. There is a lot of serious illnesses in this world, I see. Makes me sad. I’m gonna go build something for my PotD now. 😉 (PotD = Picture of the Day)
just having a LEGO brick in my hand makes me feel better! 😀 saying that reminded me of one time me and my family went on vacation to see the Seattle space needle (so awesome!) and then are car broke down! and I didn’t have any LEGO with me! NOT EVEN A KEY CHAIN! 😯 and well, the good news is we got to stay there longer, the bad news is I was having a withdrawal from LEGO! it was awful. 😥 (well that was off subject.) and the really sad part was that there was a LEGO store just near by but not close enough for my mom to want to take me there. 😮
Hey Admin, after reading this page I decided to make some darlings. I was able to make my whole family, and I have them on display in my room! They look so cool.
Ahhh… that’s really sweet! 😛
That is a very moving story. Well done. I never met Heather, but I bet I saw some of her work at BrickCon in Seattle. Very sad to read about what happened, but glad that she had such a positive impact on your life and the lives of others.
I like to include easter eggs in all my MOCs, including the LEGO Creator Mr.Snail, I think i may start including a Heather minifig in mocs, did she have a sig fig?
Joe, that’s a very nice idea. You can find Heather’s sig fig in the flickr group dedicated to her I mentioned in the article above. She had an older version with tan ponytail, and the newer version uses the wavy blonde hair piece. 🙂
I first found Heather on her MOCPages profile “HeatherLEGOGirl” in late 2010 and had been following her projects since then. I was always happy whe she posted new photos on Flikr of her BrickCon adventures and new photos of progress she had made in lego building. At 16 years old, I felt like I had outgrown Legos and stopped paying attention for a few months before her passing, only finding out about her going missing that summer once it was too late. But after everything, I’ve been missing her work and smile, and did not know that anyone else still posted anything about her. She will always be missed.
Logan, yes, Heather will always be missed. I think of her every April since her passing. Here is something I found on one of her social profiles that was later deleted. I thought I share it with you as you would appreciate. Her funny, witty personality shines through her words:
“I like cats, anime, sci-fi, purple, Doctor Who, Sherlock, rainbows, zombies, steampunk, sushi, Primeval, Scott Pilgrim, David Bowie, tea, dinosaurs, history, Jurassic Park, X-Men, The Walking Dead, My Chemical Romance, Hanson, The Ramones, comic books, vintage stuff, poetry, romantic gothic stuff, ballerinas, teacup Yorkies, dark humor, Victorian times, top hats, scarves, whimsy, Corgis, crafts, art, punk music, Japanese stuff, Harry Potter, Dune, House, Godzilla, Stargate SG-1, Star Trek, Criminal Minds, NCIS, Matthew Gray Gubler, Beetlejuice, etc. I enjoy the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Carroll, JK Rowling, Edward Gorey, Madeleine L’Engle, Frank Herbert, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Crichton, and Jewel Kilcher. My favorite artists are Sana Takeda, Meago, Adam Hughes, and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. My favorite video games are the Sims series, Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead, Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy, and Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. I draw, write, and am a little strange. I’m happily married to an absolutely wonderful and adorkable man. My socks and earrings never match. I always wear knock-off Converse trainer shoes that I’ve purchased at the Dollar General and put my own designs on. I enjoy nostalgia, pastalgia, tea on Tuesday afternoons and wearing my inner child on my sleeve. My heart is made of kaleidoscopes and chocolate oranges. I operate under the stern belief that life requires flavor and that flavor is tangy orange disguised as a strawberry, being that it’s filled with beautiful colors, a surprise before the inevitable let down, but the sweetness that follows.”