The light keeper
Ed Chiasson’s place on Route 54 is just beautiful — drunk drivers have smashed into his hedgerow a time or two, but other than that, it’s green and quiet, with extensive landscaping and flower garden.
Oh, and a lawn ornament shaped like a lighthouse — hinting at Chiasson’s signature specialty.
A contractor from New Brunswick, Canada, he wandered Alaska and the lower 48 until the early 1970s — “I’ve traveled all over the U.S.,” Chiasson pointed out. He did insulation, waterproofing and hurricane shutter installation from Maine to Florida before landing a swing scaffolding job in Ocean City, Md. and settling down long enough to build his home west of Fenwick.
A few years later, Chiasson was running a crew of about 20 at the time, with all the associated headaches and pains in the neck. “I wanted to do something different — something less stressful,” he pointed out.
While he said he never actually retired, he started building ornamental lighthouses out of his home in the late 1980s, and eventually phased out of the contractor business.
His Sea-Lites venture has really taken off since then.
So why lighthouses? He admitted he was quite fond of them, but the business was really born of a simple change in perspective.
“People go through the world looking this way,” he said, holding his hands by the sides of his face, like blinders. “But you just turn your head a bit, and that’s when it hits,” he said. “Whether it’s lighthouses, or whatever it is.
Driving around, he said he kept seeing wooden lighthouse ornaments in yards — but something was wrong.
“To me, they didn’t look like lighthouses,” he said. “When you look at actual lighthouses, they’re basically conical in shape — some of them are octagon, also, but even those, the ones you see aren’t made to scale. They’re just a generic-type lighthouse with a globe on top.
“You see people have their barns or sheds, and they’re building those, and somebody comes along and says, ‘I can build a better shed,’” Chiasson noted. “Basically, I saw lighthouses and I said, ‘I can build a better lighthouse.’ That’s what it comes down to. That’s it, in a nutshell.”
Right at the outset, he realized he’d have a hard time building conical structures out of wood. He decided to use a polystyrene base material for the Sea-Lites models — Chiasson orders great blocks of the stuff, and then slices the conical sections using what he termed a “hot wire harp.”
He applies a fiberglass coating to the base material, and then a durable, synthetic stucco finish (in three looks — sand, freestyle or coarse).
Chiasson said the Sea-Lites lighthouses were getting better and better all the time. Frankford resident Joe Eckert signed on as a business partner five years ago, and the two men turn some serious production out of their warehouse near Williamsville. They ship the Sea-Lites models all over the country, and overseas to England and Japan, Chiasson said.
If Chiasson’s an artist, he’s definitely a realist. He sends for the blueprints, and while he said they were harder to come by in these days of heightened security, he works from those. “Just like everybody had their own version of what a painting should look like, I just said, well, I have my own version of what a lighthouse should look like,” he pointed out.
No plans, he works from photographs, but either way, when he’s finished, it’s not just some random lawn ornament — it’s a miniature of a real thing, right down to the paint job.
For instance, the popular Cape Hatteras (N.C.) light is swirled like a barber pole. The Assateague (Va.) lighthouse is painted in bands, Cape Henry (Va.) in offset rectangular checks and Cape Lookout (N.C.) in a regular checkerboard — if you said the Diamondback, any lighthouse aficionado would know you were talking about Cape Lookout, Chiasson said.
Or, there’s the Cape Canaveral (Fla.) Lighthouse — unlike most, it has portholes instead of regular windows, and Sea-Lites customers can be sure those will be accurately reflected in Chiasson’s creations.
And then, there are options regarding the lens room, starting from the basic lantern with tulip bulb. “If you really want to go Rolls-Royce/Cadillac, you can get the revolving beacon,” Chiasson said. “Or if you want something even fancier, we can light up the windows.”
He said he wasn’t set in stone in his loyalty to real-life, either — if clients wanted custom colors or patterns, he could accommodate. Some people matched them with their house paint or shutters, he pointed out.
The term “lawn ornament” just doesn’t quite describe what it is that Chiasson produces. Meticulous reproduction aside, he builds some of these lighthouses on a rather grand scale.
Sure, there are the 3-foot-6 models, but they can be 10 feet, 12 feet, all the way up to 20 feet tall — perfect at a lakeside estate, for instance.
“Everybody loves lighthouses,” he said. “You see a lot of people set up a nautical place in a corner of their property — add some stones and seagulls, maybe some netting — or they set them by their swimming pools.
“You can really use your imagination with them,” he said.” To learn more about Sea Lites, visit the Web site, www.sea-lites.com, or call (302) 436-5019.