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11th "Festival of Lighthouses" at The Maritime Aquarium

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Four model lighthouses made in Norwalk are helping to light the way for visitors in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk as part of the Aquarium’s 11th annual “Festival of Lighthouses.”


Entries by Courtenay Austin, Shar Landers, Jason Larche and Jo Stecker are among the creative lighthouses in the holiday display, which is open daily and free with Aquarium admission through Jan. 21, 2013. Maritime Aquarium visitors can follow these homemade beacons through the galleries and then cast a vote for their favorite.  The lighthouse with the most votes wins $1,500.


As many as 22 lighthouses will be displayed. The lighthouses were built by local artists looking for a challenge, by families that wanted to work together on a fun project, and by students fulfilling an assignment. 


“They’re beautiful. They’re funny. They’re clever. They’re intricate. They’re exquisite,” the Aquarium’s marketing director, Chris Loynd, said of this year’s lighthouses. “Every year, we’re blown away by the time and effort that people put into designing and building these lighthouses, which add tremendous value to our visitors’ experience through the holidays.”


Rules in the lighthouse contest are kept to a minimum to allow for maximum creativity. Entries must be 3 to 6 feet tall and have a working light, and may not include animal remains (such as shells).  Beyond that, it’s up to the creators’ imaginations.


Austin has entered the Aquarium’s lighthouse contest numerous times, often using the most unusual of materials – and this year is no exception. Her entry, “Got Milk??,” is made by stacking hundreds of little coffee-creamer cups – the kind used in diners – upside-down. 


Landers is also a regular entrant, creating decorative designs in her lighthouses by punching many delicate holes in sheets of tin. Her wins include second place in 2008 and fourth place in 2010. This year’s “Did It Ourselves” is a six-sided lighthouse emitting sweeps of light from within, while octopi climb the exterior walls.


Larche went a more traditional direction, building a six-sided lighthouse with windows up the sides. Titled “Phare de Larche,” it’s painted in a cheery blue and white, and sits on a grassy base.


Stecker’s “New England Americana” is a shingled red, white and blue lighthouse, cut open in front to reveal three interior floors – there’s a kitchen, bedroom and living room, all fully decorated in Early American style.


Other entries this year include a lighthouse covered in crocheted yarn, a lighthouse with interactive computer animation and a lighthouse that amusingly represents the 12 days of Christmas. (For the partridge in a pear tree, look for a photo of the bus used on TV’s “The Partridge Family.”) There are lighthouses made of stained glass and delicately cut stone.


“Several entrants this year have told us that they’ve enjoyed viewing the lighthouse exhibits in the past and wanted to take a crack at making one themselves,” Loynd said. “But we also have nine entrants – more than one-third of the total – who are returning veterans; some of them for several years in a row. It’s become very competitive.”


Two lighthouses are modeled after real lights – the famous West Quoddy Head Light in Lubec, ME, and the historic light in Sandy Hook, NJ. 


Four entries were built by Stamford (CT) High School students in the pottery class of teacher Carolyn Daher.


Besides the $1,500 top award, other prizes are: $750 for second place, $375 for third; $300 for fourth; $225 for fifth; and $150 for sixth. Winners will be announced at an evening reception on Jan. 25.


The “2012 Festival of Lighthouses” is free with Maritime Aquarium general admission, which is $13.95 for adults, $12.95 for seniors (65+) and $10.50 for children 2-12.


For more details about Maritime Aquarium exhibits, IMAX movies and programs, call (203) 852-0700 or go online to www.maritimeaquarium.org.

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