With snow falling and temperatures hovering in the teens, the trio climbed a metal ladder and hoisted up canvas sacks full of huge round frames lined with green and gold lighting gels. They then squeezed through a tiny set of doors, tromped onto the snow-covered roof of the state Capitol and got to work.
Some may think lighting the Capitol Dome green and gold this week in honor of the Green Bay Packers is as easy as flipping a switch. But these three can tell you it isn't nearly that simple.
"It's cold and rainy. Your hands are frozen. Your fingers are always getting cut," state worker Carolyn Trumpy said.
Early Monday morning, Trumpy — who earned the nickname "the goddess of light" during the 25 years she's spent overseeing lighting at the Capitol — unlocked door after door and led lighting expert John Hyatt and his colleague Jen Ahlstrom up multiple narrow passageways so they could transform the Dome's normal white glow to Packers team colors for the week leading up to Sunday's Super Bowl.
The process involves securing colored gels over a total of 48 large round lights set atop the building's four wings. Sometimes the gel frames can easily be attached with screws and wingnuts, but usually some muscle or a Swiss Army knife is needed.
"If force doesn't work, you're not using enough," Hyatt told Ahlstrom as she wrestled with a frame.
For Hyatt the saga really began over the weekend, when he set off from Grand Rapids, Mich., with the frames and gels on a six-hour drive to Madison. Hyatt used to keep the equipment in his office on State Street near the Capitol, but he decided to close up his shop here in November due to tough economic times — and a moratorium on colored lighting for the Capitol.
The moratorium went into effect this fall, said state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, until members of the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board can agree on a policy about who can illuminate the dome in special colors.
"I think Brat Fest was a little bit of a stretch for some people," Hyatt said of the decision to light the Capitol mustard yellow last May in honor of the annual nonprofit sausage festival and its founder, the late Tom Metcalfe.
Typically, the Capitol is lit in honor of nonprofit causes, such as red for National Heart Month and pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the groups pick up the tab. This week's lighting will cost the state $1,800.
Hyatt and Ahlstrom said they're hopeful the colored lightings will continue. "Since the Capitol is so light, it takes the light really well," Hyatt said.
He added the trick is picking colors that aren't so deep they "eat up all the light" but aren't so light the colors look like weak pastels.
Because nobody wants to see pea green instead of Packer green and gold.