Robert and Linda Sprague, Dawson, create large and small outdoor light displays. PHOTOS BY LIZA KESSEL/NDAREC
An elegant angel, smiling snowmen waving at passers-by or potatoes wearing Santa hats. It’s all part of the magical world of Robert and Linda Sprague, Dawson, members of KEM Electric Cooperative.
The owners of R&L Light Creations handcraft outdoor light displays for every holiday season, along with customized pieces for businesses across the state and customers across the country.
The business was started by George and Elaine Gross in Napoleon after the two saw similar displays during a trip to Branson, Mo.
Meanwhile, the Spragues, who live on their third-generation family farm near the shores of Lake Isabel, had a tradition of stringing Christmas lights on the evergreen trees lining their driveway each season. But as the trees grew larger, that task was becoming more difficult. So, the couple visited George and Elaine one afternoon to look at their light displays.
An ongoing conversation ensued. Then, one day, Robert came home with some news to share with Linda.
“He came home one day and he said, ‘We’re going to be buying the business from George and Elaine,’ ” Linda recalls.
The Spragues had already decided to leave the dairy business after 25 years, so Christmas came early in July 1999, when the couple purchased the business and renamed it R&L Light Creations.
Robert had studied to be a machinist before having to leave college to return to the farm when his father died. That training is valuable as he creates new designs on a jig in his workshop.
“When somebody comes and gives him a challenge to make something, that’s what he likes,” Linda says.
To create each piece, Robert first pencils the shape onto a cardboard pattern. He uses a jig to bend the one-quarter-inch steel rod by hand, heating it where sharp bends are needed. Then he welds the pieces together, painting the finished piece to protect it from the elements.
Then the piece moves into Linda’s portion of the shop. There, she clips colored lights onto the frame, covering it to create the details. A snowman is brightly lit with a red scarf, blue eyes and an orange nose. A leprechaun dances in golds and greens. A 14-piece nativity scene brings Christmas to life.
Linda patiently strings the 150 lights onto an angel, using LED strings of lights that last longer and will remain lit if just one bulb burns out.
“I love it,” Linda says of her lighting task. “You look at it and isn’t much, but when you get the lights on, it looks so nice.”
Linda will string more than 28,000 lights in a season, creating patterns with colored lights.
“It’s kind of a challenge,” she says.
With 30 or more patterns, the couple and one employee create scenes for Christmas, Valentine Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter. They also customize pieces, which have included a spaceship pizza for a business in Minot, a potato with a Santa hat for a Jamestown business and a drugstore scene for another business.
“That was tedious and a lot of work, but it was beautiful when it was done,” Linda says about the drugstore.
They also patterned a yellow ribbon while their son was serving in Iraq, and a pink ribbon for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Their creations have been included in every city in North Dakota that has lights in a city park.
The couple joined Pride of Dakota when they purchased the business, attending their first showcase in Bismarck.
“Needless to say, I am kind of ashamed of what kind of booth we had the first year,” Linda says with a laugh. “We just took a nativity set and sat by the table and had our brochures. Well, you don’t do that.”
Then, Pride of Dakota sponsored a trip to a Canadian show, where they were able to see other booth displays.
“We came back with a lot of ideas and we knew we had to do something so our lights would show up,” Linda shares.
When they returned home, they created a booth lined with black.
“The lights show up much better,” Linda says.
Pride of Dakota was created in 1985 to create a state brand that would designate products made in North Dakota. Today, member companies - ranging from large companies with more than 100 employees to “mom-and-pop” operations - participate in the program.
Since their first foray into Pride of Dakota’s holiday showcases, the Spragues have attended nearly every showcase. With the Christmas season nearing, Robert and Linda spend more time in their shop, bending and lighting creative ornaments.
The life-size ornaments include a base, which can be weighed down with a sandbag or cement block. They withstand North Dakota’s wind and weather.
“We stand behind what we sell,” Linda says.
The R&L Light Creations display is a presence at all the Pride of Dakota holiday showcases this year. Visit the website at www.randllightcreations.net.
Luann Dart is a freelance writer and editor who lives in the Elgin area.