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Lighting the way

Icicle Christmas lights adorn the front of shops and buildings in Stockholm, Wis. The lights will be on display through January. (Republican Eagle photo by Stacy Bengs)1 / 3
Icicle lights are a new addition to Stockholm. (Republican Eagle photo by Stacy Bengs)2 / 3
The strands of icicle lights adorn the buildings but also illuminate the community's dark streets. (Photo by John Myklebust)3 / 3

The story could be straight out of a holiday children’s book. A village resident sits, looking out his window, wondering how he can make evening walks with his two dogs more enjoyable in the dark days of winter.

With some help from the community and lighting know-how, the charming village was transformed into a sparkling winter wonderland, outlined with lights.

The real story is set in Stockholm, Wis., where architect John Myklebust has hung thousands of Christmas lights.

“I was right down in the retail area of Stockholm during winter last year,” he explained. “We were walking around and it was really dark and not much was done for Christmas decorations, I just thought there must be something we can do.”

So Myklebust turned to what he knows best — lighting. As an architect, he understands the design issues and challenges in lighting design of architectural, entertainment, retail, institutional and residential projects. He said he consistently seeks creative, efficient lighting systems, embracing new technological and strategic opportunities.

After convincing local merchants to chip in, enough money was raised to buy more than 1,000 feet of white icicle lights and he went to work.

“It really didn’t take much convincing,” he added.

The first phase was to amplify porch details and other architectural features of each shop.

One of the reasons he said he contacted the businesses was to help them extend their holiday shopping season – with the help of little illumination.

“We all thought it was such a cool idea,” said Alan Nugent, member of the Stockholm Merchant’s Association and owner of Abode Gallery in Stockholm. Merchants kicked above their merchant dues to cover the lights, he explained.

“Here we are this tiny town along the river with a world-class lighting designer that comes with this quirky idea and it’s out of the ordinary,”

Nugent said. “What he had was so out-of-the-box and fit so well with what Stockholm is about and everyone was excited his idea.”

The second phase added colored lights to trees sprinkled throughout the village. In it, Myklebust explores how seasonal lighting can embellish the large open space behind several shops.

“That is a bigger and more complicated project in order to get enough critical mass takes a lot of light and a lot of time,” he adds.

Myklebust’s mind revolves about lighting – he’s been involved in related concepts since his college days. “I did a lot of theater,” he recalled of college years, “I gravitated to light booths.”

He goes on to say so much of lighting in retail or residential has certain things you find in theatrical lighting.

He bounced from Boston to the Twin Cities to California and eventually landed in Stockholm – but always worked with lighting.

“It began as a passion of mine in my architectural design,” Myklebust said. “One day I woke up and just thought, ‘I’m just doing lighting from now on.’”

His work can be seen from parts of Universal Studios in California to the Mall of America and now a village nestled along Lake Pepin.

And the design-brain runs in the family.

Myklebust’s son, Scott, lives in Hong Kong where he is a professional architect. Move on to daughter Andrea and son-in-law Stanton Sears, who area residents of Stockholm and work as local sculptors. The two are known for their “Art+Fire” projects on the shore of Lake Pepin and own the Black Cat Farmstead.

For Myklebust, his project of lighting a village, with limited funds, has been rewarding.

“Some of the stuff I’m doing is experimental in terms of trying to figure out use of inexpensive Christmas lighting,” he said.

Myklebust and wife Sandra bought a home in town seven years ago and turned into a vacation rental – named TansyHus. She is vacation rental specialist and is leading the marketing effort for the Stockholm Merchant’s Association.

The two and their dogs - golden-doodle Bernadette and terrier-mix Charlie — currently reside downtown in the village, although majority of their work is done is California.

“The thing about Stockholm is, it’s very self-contained in a two-block area,” he explained about the lighting. “Bernadette, Charlie and I go for our walks and it’s very nice. It really makes a difference, every store in the village has lights up.”

Stockholm’s streets – although not somewhere in Hollywood - say it all.

“It’s utterly charming,” Nugent adds, “It’s different than I’ve seen in any village – every building ties into together, you can definitely tell a lot of thought went into this.”

Myklebust’s lights will be on display through January.

For more information about the Myklebusts check out Scott’s work at or find Andrea at

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

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