His biggest admirers sometimes compose their fan mail in crayon. But Sean Kenney RC’98 understands. When you’re one of only nine Lego certified professionals worldwide, building some of the planet’s most awesome sculptures made entirely from the rainbow-colored plastic bricks, your fan base is not far removed from Sesame Street.
“I like playing with 7-year-olds,” Kenney concedes, “because, on the inside, I’m 12.”
On the outside, however, Kenney is 34, an erstwhile computer science major who has been building with Legos since, well, forever. When he moved to Rutgers as a first-year student, he brought his Lego pieces with him.
After college, Kenney says, he “rode the dot-com boom up and then down,” eventually landing a job at Lehman Brothers.
He hated it.
Fed up, he abruptly quit, and for the past five years he’s made his living building Lego creations, often for Fortune 500 companies, being one of only nine LEGO certified professionals. He is inviting the public to join him at the Bronx Zoo this summer, where on August 20 and 21 and September 17 and 18, he will give people pointers for making their own wildlife-themed LEGO sculptures as they take in other LEGO displays on view at the zoo.
With clients such as Google, Microsoft, Mazda, and Nintendo, Kenney works out of a 1,200-square-foot studio in Queens, New York, where he keeps 1.5 million carefully sorted Lego pieces in clear storage bins, some of them stacked to the 12-foot ceiling. His four-foot-high Empire State Building is displayed at the 86th-floor observation deck of the real thing.
In 2009, Nintendo showed off his 50,000-piece DSi, an electronic handheld game, at its flagship store in Rockefeller Center. Today, it’s on display at the company’s headquarters in Seattle, and Kenney says he’s been told it will someday be moved to the as-yet-unbuilt Nintendo Museum.
Last fall, his creations took up residence at the Philadelphia Zoo, part of “Creatures of Habitat,” a conservation-themed exhibit. Kenney says he spent 2,800 hours building life-size replicas of 30 animals, including a 300-pound polar bear made from 95,000 Lego pieces.
Last October, Kenney’s second children’s book on building with Legos, Cool Robots (Henry Holt), appeared in bookstores. For Kenney, inspiring kids to create is the coolest part of the job. “What more can you ask for?” he says. “What else are we on this rock for?”
— Christopher Hann