More than just a light display, it’s a labor of love

Chicquita Smith weaves lights into the frame of a seahorse Nov. 16 in the Port of Kingston office. The seahorse will be one of many new and larger lighting displays this year at the Kingston Country Christmas.                               - Kipp Robertson / Herald
Chicquita Smith weaves lights into the frame of a seahorse Nov. 16 in the Port of Kingston office. The seahorse will be one of many new and larger lighting displays this year at the Kingston Country Christmas.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson / Herald

KINGSTON — Twice a week, the Port of Kingston office is transformed into a holiday lights workshop.

Sitting around a few tables in the main room of the office, volunteers and port employees are working to turn strings of lights into LED masterpieces for the Port’s Country Christmas light display.

Fish, crabs, poinsettias, a sunflower, and even a seahorse are just a few of the creations that have been created from the lights.

It’s an effort that involves more than a dozen volunteers.

Working on a poinsettia of her own, Patty Fortune said the classes held in the port office have become a social function. A quick scan of the room Nov. 16, while listening to the chatter, and that’s easily verified.

Making the displays is no sweat, for the most part.

“It’s not rocket science,” Fortune said. “If you can count, you can do this.”

However, not all displays are as simple as the experienced make them look.

One of the most difficult plants to make are the Red Hot Poker. The pokers — genus Kniphofia — are also called Torch lily or Tritoma. Because of the complexity of the plant — red flowers on top, with yellow underneath and green stems — it makes for a challenge when stringing lights together. The lights also need to be held together tightly while the plant is created.

This year, the main focus of new light creations are animals.

In addition to many of the previous items seen at last year’s display, there will be an ocean-themed section. It will also feature a “winter wonderland.” Look for the snowman. And watch for a special holiday appearance from a favorite animated movie.

Workers weave LED lights into metal frames that are already shaped like the creature or item. The frames are not store-bought. Like the final product, the frames are created at the Port.

Marina attendant Ed Clark welds and forms the frames in the Port’s shop. The ideas come from those weaving the lights, and even coloring books, which have simplistic outlines in them.

Though some of the shapes are taller than some of the people working on them, and some are three-dimensional, it doesn’t take Clark long to make the frames. Clark’s been welding “probably a lot longer than you’ve been alive,” he said — more than 26 years.

Clark enjoys doing the work. Because there are more taxpayers than people who use the Kingston Port, he thinks of it as a way to give back to everyone.

“It’s my way of giving back to the  taxpayers,”  he said.

Though workers do have directions for making various displays, volunteer Hollace Vaughan said they don’t necessarily follow them. That may be wise or not wise, but out of all the displays carried over from last year, only four will need some kind of repair.

Creating a light display that will be up for one-and-a-half months is not without its challenges. During the light-making class Nov. 16, Christine Conners, the Port’s assistant business manager, was pulling apart a fish from last year for its red lights. The extra red lights that were ordered for this year did not arrive. So in order to finish the bottom of the poinsettia tree, sacrifices were made.

Port employee Paige Savage is helping lead the light display effort this year. It’s not an easy task to coordinate, she said.

The light display classes are held throughout the year, which helps keep everything from being done last-minute. However, as Dec. 1 nears, Savage can still feel the pressure.

“Once it comes to crunch time … trying to get everyone on the same page and assigning projects … there’s just so much to do,” she said.

Along with making the displays, volunteers must set up and check the displays and make any needed fixes.

“There’s just so much to do,” Savage said again.

The volunteers are greatly appreciated. Most have helped with the light display since the first year, Savage said.

It can take three to four hours to make one flower. In order to meet the deadline, volunteers are taking flowers home with them to finish. “With the amount of flowers we have, there’s no way we could do this without them,” Savage said of the volunteers.

In all, there’s about 14 volunteers. Port employees give their time when available as well. It’s a combined effort to provide some holiday cheer for everyone.

“It’s a big part of the community,” Savage said. “People come down here to see them … It’s nice to be part of something like that.”


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