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Teen creates ships, planes and cities using Lego pieces

December 27th, 2017 | Christina Whiting Print this article   Email this article  

When he was 4 years old, Rio Shemet Pitcher got his first Lego set as a birthday present from a friend; 100 pieces that he made into a little boat. Today, 12 years later, he is building planes and cities and large-scale models of ships, consisting of thousands of Lego pieces.

With a passion for creating boats, he has built 10 different ones to date, including the Helenka B, a boat in the Homer Harbor. He has also built a detailed model of the Olympus, based on Jacques Cousteau's research boat, Calypso. His replica is 36 inches long, eight inches wide and 12 inches tall, and won the Homer Public Library's People's Choice award and best in his age category.

He recently completed a PT-109 boat, inspired by a model version he saw.

"JFK was the commanding officer on a boat that was attacked, cut in half and sank, and he was stuck on an island and rescued by a PT boat, which had been made to attack armored barges," Shemet Pitcher said.

His PT109 comprises 10,000 Lego pieces, is 20 inches long, five inches wide and eight inches tall, with eight different colors of blocks. It took him five months of multiple days of solid working before and after school to finish.

When he was 12 years old, he built a model of the Titanic that was displayed at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. During this Lego exhibit, he met and talked about his piece with Nathan Sawaya, a famous Lego artist from New York City, discussing how to best secure Titanic's smokestacks, since the originals were built on an angle.

His Titanic won a purple ribbon for Lego Division Champion at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in 2015, was exhibited at Homer Middle School while he was a student there and has been exhibited at the Homer Public Library. Shemet Pitcher has collaborated with friends for the library's Lego contests, and has gone to the Lego open building time to help the younger kids with their own Lego projects.

In addition to boats, he likes to build planes and helicopters. To date, he has built a C47 Skytrain that was a WWII paratrooper and transport plane, a De Havilland Beaver and a Huey helicopter. He is currently building a remote-controlled airplane from scratch that is based on a Super Cub design, gluing custom-cut pieces of foam board, along with motors and electronic controllers from old toys and online sources.

He is also building a fictional city that includes 15 buildings he designed, made from 10,000 pieces. It measures 6-by-6 feet, has railroad tracks and an ocean front section, and was inspired by other Lego cities he found online.

"I really enjoy tinkering and am always working on two to three projects simultaneously," he said.

Shemet Pitcher said he creates as he goes and is also inspired by what he sees in movies, books, on display in the library and online.

"I think about how I can make something look more realistic," he said. "Sometimes I have an image of a real ship on my iPad and build from that, or I look at other people's versions of what they have built from Lego."

He purchases pieces through Lego's website, EBay and Amazon, and uses his allowance, earnings from work, money given to him as birthday and Christmas presents, in addition to small winnings from Lego contests. He participates in online Lego communities, which include Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. He hopes to one day visit the Lego House in Denmark, which is owned by Lego and houses the biggest Lego structure - a tree made from over 10 million bricks. He would also like to meet the people who build custom sets for a company called Brickmania in Minnesota.

Building his models in his bedroom and in the family's basement, his Lego city has taken over most of the downstairs and sits across two 6-foot long tables with storage bins underneath. His desk and room serve as his Lego work areas.

When he builds, he plays music through his ear buds, works with a variety of lamps on his desk that is scattered with a variety of parts and pieces, sorted in drawers from a nearby desk. If a piece is large, he will work on the floor rather than the desk.

Shemet Pitcher comes from a very creative family. His grandfather was an art teacher; his father, Don, is a photographer; his mom, Karen, used to paint and his sister, Aziza, draws. A sophomore at Homer High School, he hopes to study architecture or engineering after graduating.

He has not yet exhibited his work in any of the local galleries, but is considering doing so in the coming year and is open to the idea of creating commissioned pieces.

"Lego is cool because you can build whatever you want and it can look realistic or not," he said. "It's like building a video game, but is more like the real version of a city or a building and you can physically hold it."


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