The work of local decorator Greg Fowkes brightens up Christmas
In 1880, Thomas Edison strung the very first strand of electric lights around his laboratory at Menlo Park during the Christmas season. With this first ever electrical light display, the tradition of Christmas lights began.
Today, 132 years later, the average American spends $47 dollars a year on Christmas decorations and lights, and in 2011 the U.S. is on track to spend $6 billion nationwide on the seasonal décor that has become a tradition of the holidays.
Christmas lights, whether they twinkle, blink, or change colors, are now a symbol of the season, illuminating homes, city streets, and entire buildings.
This is when Santaquin decorator, Greg Fowkes, gets rolling. “Christmas is our biggest thing,” says the owner of Greg’s Distinctive Decorating.
From the Denver Zoo and Botanical Gardens to Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Fowkes sells lights and does work on Christmas pieces all over the area. His work can be seen in places like the Qwest Building in Salt Lake City and in various locations across Park City.
Santaquin residents might recognize some of his work from in town. The old light train at the park on Main Street and the soldiers that guard the sign at Santaquin’s entrance were the early work of Fowkes and his team.
For the past 14 years, however, his most recognizable work in South Utah County is at Spanish Fork’s annual Festival of Lights, where most of the sets are Fowkes’ work. For over a decade, Fowkes has been part of the designing committee that lights up the Canyon View Park every year.
From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, holiday enthusiasts can drive around the Canyon View pond amidst larger-than-life displays of a winter wonderland. Dinosaurs, Santa’s House, and an animated ski slope are old favorites at the Festival of Lights and were creations of Distinctive Decorating.
“Everybody seems to like the baby dinosaur hatching in the egg,” says Fowkes. “That’s one of the most popular ones.”
Other patron favorites include the newly remodeled castle set and the various animals on the pond.
Setting up the Festival of Lights is no small task. Working alongside Spanish Fork City’s crews, Fowkes and his team start work at the park as early as September, usually working through October almost full-time. Work for his team doesn’t officially end until after the opening on Thanksgiving night.
Fowkes says the drive-thru Christmas décor is made up of over 1 million individual lights; “It’s probably closer to 1.5 million to be honest,” he says.
Every year something at the festival changes. This year festival-goers will notice a brand new entrance made of dancing LED lights created by Fowkes. They may even notice that the entire festival route has changed, along with the locations of most of the displays.
“Infrastructure had to be moved, electrical had to be moved,” says Fowkes of the renovations required to make the new route work. “There were a lot of changes.”
Having been in the decorating business for almost 40 years, Fowkes enjoys constructing the Festival of Lights and similar sets. But not as much as he enjoys seeing them once the work is complete.
“I drive around and go see places all over,” he says. He usually takes his friends along to see different Christmas sets and drive-thrus where he’s done work. “We’ll even run down to Vegas to see the drive-thru there,” he says.
He looks forward to seeing changes at each location. “I think it’s fun to see that they’ve put in that effort,” says Fowkes. “Seeing something new out there, you know, somebody can do one little thing on their home and to go and see that is exciting.”
As for decorating his own house, Fowkes just shakes his head. His Christmas decorating efforts don’t leave him much time or energy to do his own decorating at his Santaquin home. “I’m usually too tired,” he says.
The Festival of Lights is open every night from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. until Jan 1. Details.