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Lobster trap Christmas tree erected in Stonington Borough

Stonington — The first thing Westerly artist Kristin Shaffer thought was, "I've got to do this."

Shaffer said that was her initial reaction when Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Konicki first showed her a picture of what she wanted to build at the Town Dock this Christmas season.

Shaffer is among the 55 artists whose work will be on display Saturday at 4:30 p.m., when the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce formally unveils a 25-foot-tall tree fashioned from 330 green lobster traps and decorated with thousands of multicolored lights and 330 buoys painted by a large group of artists. On Wednesday afternoon, crews finished assembling the tree, which is large enough to walk inside.

Konicki initially had the idea for the tree back in December 2019, when she saw ones in other commercial fishing communities such as Gloucester, Mass., being used to boost tourism. She began working on the project this past spring as she assembled and coordinated the artists, sponsors, materials and volunteers. These include AB Powell Woodworks, which constructed the entryway; Mystic Knotworks, which provide rope for the entry; and JR Sheetmetal of Westerly, which created the sign.  

"I'm like a kid before Christmas. I'm so excited about this," Konicki said about the completion of the $36,000 project, which she said is already one of the largest lobster trap trees in existence.

The tree will be lit each night from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. and is expected to attract thousands of people during the holiday season.

"We want to use it as a landmark to draw people to the borough to eat and shop. It's a way to support local businesses during  the winter," Konicki said. The tree will become an annual tradition, she said, with new buoys added each year.

First Selectwoman Danielle Chesebrough called the tree "a very cool new tradition" for the town.

Among the buoys are three to remember people who have died, two memorials for dogs, two wedding ceremonies and one depicting the journey of a family from Africa to their new home in Westerly. Others depict various scenic locations in the region, while others show the businesses and organizations that sponsored them. While most are painted, some have mosaic tiles, sea glass, beads or recycled materials.

One called "Sea Odyssey," made by Alan Jones and Ysela Caceres of Westerly, shows an octopus made from clay grabbing a ship at sea. Another called "The Lobster Catcher" by Tim Love is made of reflective glass bead used on roads and is expected to glow in the dark.  

Some of the buoys will go up for auction on Feb. 4, 2022, while others will be returned to businesses, organizations and individuals who sponsored them. In addition to the artists, 44 Stonington students painted buoys at two workshops this fall.

Shaffer said she asked if she could do more when Konicki picked up the first buoy she had painted.

That led to 10 more, including ones for Gray Sail Brewery and Westerly Sun and another depicting Susette Tibus, the winner of the chamber's Athena Award this year. Her favorite was commissioned by the family of a man who died this past summer and asked that she include depictions of the fire department, angel wings and a cross.

"I hope to meet them on Saturday," she said. 

Artist Susan Pfeifer Scala, who described herself as a storyteller, has painted the most buoys of any of the artists: more than 35 over the past two months. On Tuesday, she was finishing up the last one. 

"There were a lot of stories to tell," she said.

With her buoys depicting businesses ranging from Valenti Motors to Westerly Hospital and various nonprofit organizations, one of her favorites is of a Noank fisherman who built his own boat.

"A man who built his own boat, that hits your heart," she said, adding that the project allowed her to get out and meet so many people.

"The joy you'll have when you see these, that's what this is all about," she said about the tree. "It's going to bring people together at a time when we have been through a lot." 

More information about the tree, including a photo gallery of all the buoys, a list of sponsors and more, can be found at Lobstertraptree.com.

j.wojtas@theday.com 

Volunteers assemble the Stonington Lobster Trap Tree sponsored by the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, November 23, 2021 at Town Dock. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Volunteers assemble the Stonington Lobster Trap Tree sponsored by the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce Tuesday, November 23, 2021 at Town Dock. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Photo gallery

For more photos of the raising of the Stonington Lobster trap tree click here.

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