Wilton couple adds to Festival of Lighthouses

A Wilton couple’s model lighthouse is helping to light the way for visitors to the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk as part of the aquarium’s 12th annual “Festival of Lighthouses Contest.”

“Millstone Tower” by Katie Keating and her boyfriend, Mike Giuffre, is among the 22 creative lighthouses in the holiday display, which will be open daily through Jan. 20.

Katie’s parents, Sean and Ivy Keating, entered the contest in 2011 and 2012.

Katie, a student at Wilton High School, moved to Wilton with her family when she was 3, and they made frequent trips to the aquarium. After her parents’ schedule got busy, Katie and her boyfriend decided they would take up the lighthouse challenge.

“They didn’t have enough time to do it this year, and I felt that it was really important to keep up the tradition,” she said.

According to a press release from the Maritime Aquarium, their entry is a six-sided lighthouse that tapers up to a light, neatly tucked under a gazebo-style roof. Holiday wreaths cut a spiral path up the outside, while snowflakes dust the scene below of trees, deer and a waterwheel.

Katie said the water mill was partially inspired by a special place to them in Wilton.

“My grandparents had a house with a mill, and we wanted to honor that,” she said.

The exhibition is free with aquarium admission. Visitors may follow these homemade beacons through the galleries and then cast a vote for their favorite. The lighthouse with the most votes wins $1,500.

The lighthouses were built by local artists looking for a challenge, by friends and families who wanted to work together on a fun project, and by students fulfilling an assignment.

“The best gifts are those gifts that are unexpected yet show great thought,” said Judith Bacal, the aquarium’s director of exhibits. “The lighthouse contest is like a gift for us each year, because the designs are always so unexpected and the finished works show such thought and craftsmanship.”

Rules are kept to a minimum to allow for maximum creativity. Lighthouses must be three to six 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.

Other designs this year include a lighthouse made from Twinkies, Ho Hos and other snack cakes, a gingerbread lighthouse, one made of tin, one made of green plastic soda bottles, a lighthouse that celebrates the children’s board game Candy Land, and a World Series lighthouse set in a baseball stadium.

Katie said she’s seen her lighthouse at the aquarium, having gone twice with her sister. From what she has overheard, the reaction has been good.

“A family commented on it while I was standing nearby,” she said. “I’ve also told kids at school. My teacher joked that we were going to go there as a field trip.”

Entries are coming from residents of cities close to the aquarium — Norwalk, Stamford and Bridgeport — but also from as far as Newtown, Ansonia and Shelton in Connecticut and Hartsdale and Wappingers Falls in New York.

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. 23. Katie said she’s not concerned with that.

“The winning doesn’t matter,” she said. “The whole idea was to keep up the family tradition. Whether I do it next year, or my parents do it again, there will definitely be a Keating lighthouse in the contest again.”

Information: 203-852-0700 or maritimeaquarium.org.