Over his 66-year life, model maker Greg Kelly has made small-scale replicas of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the Titanic's grand staircase, several 100-year-old movie theaters, and art deco buildings. He recently completed another masterpiece: A model of U.S. Bank Stadium, just in time for last Sunday's epic game.
“I love a challenge,” Kelly says. “I like to do things that I haven’t seen other modelers interpret or build.”
The stadium looked interesting and challening to him. So he and his wife, Dana, took the light rail to the venue, where Kelly sketched and Dana took pictures. He was blown away by the building’s angles and how the different pieces come together. “I thought it’d be incredible to attempt to recreate it in model form,” he says.
Originally from Southern California, Kelly made a few models when he was a kid, but really got into it after he opened a hobby shop when he was 20 years old.
“I really didn’t know anything about it at all, so I learned from my customers,” he says. “I learned a lot just by building with the kids and learning from other people before making my own style.”
Three years ago, Kelly went to his 45th high school reunion in Santa Ana, California. There, he ran into Dana, who had been his classmate. They weren’t close in high school, but sparks flew at the reunion. Not long after that, they decided to tie the knot.
“I told Dana the only condition is I gotta have room to build my models,” Kelly says. “I just love to tinker and make things.”
They moved into Dana’s town home in Vadnais Heights, but things were cramped. Kelly worked on his models on a table in the living room, and his materials were everywhere. Now they’ve moved to a house in south Minneapolis near Lake Nokomis, and he’s got his own workspace in the basement.
A few of his finished models are displayed around the house. There’s an old movie theater with their favorite movie, Singin’ in the Rain, on the marquis. He also has a group of Irish cottages made using corn husks for the roofs. There are replicas of interesting buildings the couple have encountered while traveling, and the grand staircase from the Titanic with models of Kelly and Dana made by a friend at the bottom. He’s also got a UFO made of cake paper down in the basement.
Working from his sketches and Dana’s photographs, plus additional photographs he obtained from a stadium representative, he created the tiny model of the stadium. The project required somewhere around 6,400 toothpicks and 400 hours to build.
Kelly doesn’t think of model making as an exact science.
“When you are doing a model, you don’t really want to know too much about it,” Kelly says. “You really are creating the art. If you know too much about it, you’re just copying something that already exists, and it falls short of being an art piece. You want to leave it a little bit open.”
When Vikings reps got word of the model stadium, they offered Kelly tickets to last Sunday's NFC Divisional playoff game, and they showcased the finished stadium in the main concourse near Polaris Gate.
Kelly hasn't decided where the stadium's final home with be. He says he may enter it into the Minnesota State Fair's art show, or perhaps donate it to a museum, school, or library, as he’s done with some of his other models.