How does a big Chinese Lantern show come to life? Check out these behind-the-scenes videos!
Travels to Charleston from November 2019 to March 2020 must include a visit to www.MagnoliaPlantation.com and the International Lantern Festival. Displayed over nine acres, the exhibit is the culmination of more than a year of planning and thousands of hours of intensive effort. ‘Lights of Magnolia’ is a partnership between Magnolia Plantation and Zigong Lantern Culture Industry Group Co., Ltd.
Walking a ¾ mile track of graveled garden paths and macadam roadways, visitors will be delighted by the colorful, larger-than-life illuminations of Chinese Culture, Children’s Fantasies and Lowcountry nature and wildlife.
The lion exhibit has the great Lion King stepping out on his rocky throne. Pandas frolic in our bamboo forest. The zebras and tigers graze and hunt on our Lowcountry savannah. An ostentation of Peacocks strolls the grand lawn while a float of Alligators stretches across the forested floor on its way to the black Cypress pools.
Additionally, the floral lighted lanterns include all the plant and animal species for which Magnolia is noted. Tall stands of Camellia japonica and Azalea line the paths. Butterflies and Lady Bugs flit in and out of the taller stands of natural evergreen shrubs and Live Oak Trees. Spanish moss competes with all the hanging strands of miniature lights and traditional Chinese Lanterns.
In the process of production, a vast array of materials and manufacturing specialties have been brought together. More than 35 tons of steel is welded into the fantastical forms. Rainbow-colors of 20,000 feet of lantern silk is attached to the welded shapes after they are internally lighted with 33,000 feet of LED ‘neon’ light belts. Additionally 2600 strings of LED fairy lights will spangle the night sky and reflect off the black mirrored pools. Finally 18,000 LED bulbs will be tied together with 43,000 feet of cable and wire.
Visiting Magnolia Plantation and Gardens on the Ashley River is a short trip from the center of Charleston SC and closely linked to other cities such as Myrtle Beach and Columbia SC; Wilmington and Charlotte NC, as well as Savannah and Atlanta GA. Make plans to spend a day or a long weekend with the pleasant temperatures, elegant accommodations and incredible cuisine of its Lowcountry life.
By the time this great Lantern Festival debuts in November, it will be over a year since plans were first discussed. Traveling to Magnolia from Zigong, China, containers loaded with all the components for 23 elaborate sets will hit the Port of Charleston for unloading and installation on acres of land around the iconic great white bridge.
The trip from China to the reflections of lights off black Cypress Swamps is a multi-faceted one. Bi-lingual contracts need to be reviewed. The proposed themed sets need to be designed, rendered, plotted, approved, and then processed for their creation in steel and silk.
The massive production facility in Zigong houses China’s largest lantern manufacturer. The opening of Lights of Magnolia will be the first American Public Garden to partner with the company on a scale equal to the size of America’s Oldest Gardens.
Manufacture of the Lights of Magnolia began in June and finishes with their shipping at the end of July. Hundreds of people spend the month in welding the elaborate three-dimensional structures, attaching thousands of lights and gluing yards of brightly colored silk to the forms.
The Myth of the Dragon
In many Asian cultures, the dragon is portrayed as an almost divine and mystical creature. Dragons are used to represent good luck, strength, and transformation. An associated myth has them chasing a luminous “Sacred Pearl of Wisdom.” Lights of Magnolia’s featured Dragons with Pearl include thousands of glass bottles filled with colored liquid on thin wired frames that achieve a stained-glass effect.
Another featured exhibit will be a porcelain dragon. Measuring an incredible 200 feet long by 18 feet tall, the body of this fire-breathing monster is covered with the most common of household porcelain plates and bowls—things that most children will recognize from the comfort of their own kitchens. Magnolia’s mighty dragon will loop and swagger along the mighty and historic Oak Allee. Overhead lights will cast a flickering glow that seems to bring the giant to life.
The installation will be distributed over nine acres of the historic garden. On a trail that begins in front of the main house, the tour will loop around and include many of the Black Cypress pools. The reflections off the mirrored waters will add an incredible dimension to the drama of the evening’s stroll.
More than 30 Chinese craftspeople will live at Magnolia for the six weeks prior to the festivals opening. Throughout the 112 nights of the display being open to the public, six Chinese engineers will stay on property to assure that the exhibit maintains its high level of technical brilliance and unique artistry.
Three themes separate the 23 separate exhibits: Reflections of a Chinese Cultural Exchange, Visions of Happy Childhood, and Harmonious Ecology. Lions, tigers, and pandas will pose among the real live oaks and magnolias. Lantern versions of azaleas, camellias, sunflowers and peach blossoms will become backdrops for large-scale versions of lady bugs, butterflies, and Magnolia’s own peacocks and alligators.
The lantern festival places Magnolia in a position to play a prominent role in supporting Charleston’s tourism traffic, Tom Johnson, the garden’s executive director, said. “We are expecting record-breaking attendance for this visually stimulating display of stunning Chinese art that will glow in the night,” he said. “Magnolia is constantly looking for opportunities to enhance the garden experience for our visitors, and I believe we’ve found a unique opportunity with the Zigong Lantern Group.”
An Experience to Remember
Meng Liu, executive director of China-Overseas for China Lantern International, said, “This is a great beginning for Magnolia and the whole of Charleston. We are all excited and confident that this event will get the attention it deserves. Everyone who experiences this unique event will remember it forever.”
The company’s hand-made, three-dimensional sculptures will be illuminated at night throughout the gardens from Nov. 15 to March 15. For the first time in its history, Magnolia will open its gates during the evening to allow guests to view the colorful lantern displays within its Romantic-style gardens.
Justin Corsa, executive director of North America for China Lantern International, said, “Cultural Chinese lanterns began during the Eastern Han Dynasty of the Chinese Empire from 25 to 220 AD. They were initially used as lamps and were for Buddhist worship. The art of the lantern festival has been innovated over hundreds of years and is now a combination of traditional and modern materials with ancient craftsmanship.”
Make plans now too attend this winter’s major cultural exchange. Plan your trip to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Extend your stay and add time visiting Charleston, SC and all its fabulous history, horticulture, and Lowcountry cuisine. From the beginning of November until it closes in early March, Lights of Magnolia will be one of South Carolina’s favorite destinations!
If you are planning to drive any distance to attend the Lights of Magnolia, you should think of extending the stay to include all the tours at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. It is a full day of separate tour experiences that will expand your knowledge and raise your cultural awareness of the oldest gardens in America and home to one of the last authentic examples of a style of gardening that has become known as romantic.
Magnolia Plantation – By Daytime
A GENERAL ADMISSION PASS allows you to tour on your own throughout more than 100 acres of cultivated gardens on a site of almost 500 acres. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the original ornamental garden, named Flowerdale, was planted in 1685 by Thomas and Ann Drayton on a grant of land issued by King Charles II. After 14 generations, the heirs of the original family still privately maintain the site and world-recognized historic collections of Camellias and Azaleas.
Visiting the grounds on a basic admission pass includes visits the Barbados Conservatory, the Petting Zoo, the Antebellum Cabin, the Orientation Theater with a 22-minute repeating video, the Horticulture Maze, and the Wildlife Observation Tower. New additions over the past several years include a Children’s Garden, the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail, and a Boy scout campground. Pose for photographs on the iconic white bridge originally constructed in 1840 and the more rustic red bridge crossing a black-water pool next to the conservatory.
General admission also includes access to the Magnolia Plantation House porch, Gift Shop and Peacock Café.
The NATURE TRAM offers a 45-minute narrated tour of the Plantation, outside of its historic gardens and lawns, giving an insight into the story of how Magnolia Plantation has evolved since 1676 and offers exposure to the extensive flora and fauna of the wildlife refuge. Alligators, turtles, herons, egrets, and other native animals are often viewed in abundance. The trained guides are able to answer your questions about how the internationally famous Carolina Gold Rice was cultivated and also interpret how nature along the Ashley River was governed by the changing tidal flow of the water
The NATURE BOAT is another 45-minute narrated tour, which explores the Plantation’s 125 acres of rice fields, while offering excellent close-up wildlife viewing. This tour is seasonal; please enquire for dates and times.
Our MAGNOLIA PLANTATION HOUSE with its elegant, columned porch and extensive collection of Early American museum quality antique furniture offers a 30-minute guided tour giving background on the family’s plantation living since the 1840s. On the ground level of the house, for those of you who love to shop, visit the GIFT SHOP.
The “FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM” explores our unique street of slave cabins, occupied well into the 20th century. It has been carefully preserved and restored to document the full arc of African American life at Magnolia Plantation. Each Cabin reflects a different period of the African American experience at Magnolia – from slavery to Reconstruction and on through the 1920’s and the Civil Rights era providing an extraordinary perspective. Listen to a discussion of the lives of blacks on the Plantation, have a tour of the cabins, 40-45 minutes.
The AUDUBON SWAMP GARDEN with its 60 acres of black water cypress and tupelo swamp, is traversed by boardwalks and dikes. Inhabited by local mammals, birds, and reptiles. This self-guided walking tour is lovely, mysterious and educational. Opportunities are available to view anhinga, osprey, bald eagles, egrets, herons, turtles and alligators, to name only a few. Allow at least 45 minutes for a personal tour of the swamp named for ornithologist and artist John James Audubon, who visited the plantation before the Civil War and is said to have collected waterfowl specimens here as models for his paintings.
The Sights and Sounds of Charleston, SC
Charleston is one of America’s #1 destination vacation and tourist cities. It is a focus for unequalled American History sites, trendy restaurants, terrific barrier island beaches, amazing private and public gardens, and exciting night life. It is a young vibe with an historic back beat.
Downtown Charleston is loaded with housing inventory dating to the 18th Century. Many historic homes are open to the public: Nathaniel Russell, Joseph Manigault, Aiken-Rhett, Heyward-Washington and Edmondston-Alston Houses welcome visitors on regular weekly hours. Additionally, the private gardens that can be seen on a casual stroll through the historic quarter will fill up a full afternoon of touring on those weekends when one or another of the associations open them for public touring. Included in any walking tour of the historic district will be the amazing collection of window boxes. These shine like horticultural gemstones among the rainbow-colored hues of stuccoed houses. It is a city with an amazing number of cultural “firsts!” Read about them here: https://www.charlestoncvb.com/blog/charlestons-firsts-oldest and here: https://chstoday.6amcity.com/historical-firsts-charleston-sc/
Visitors must make time for sites and adventures such as the Marketplace and its sweetgrass basket vendors, the Battery that faces Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter, horse-drawn carriage rides, the Old Slave Mart Museum, the Powder Magazine, and the dozens of churches that give the town its appellation, “The Holy City.” The “Four Corners” is at the intersection of Broad and Meeting Streets. It is unique in American urban architecture and recognizes the presence of institutions representing federal, state, local and ecclesiastical law on each corner of the intersection.
Historic Plantations, Gardens, and More
There are two additional historic houses and gardens next to Magnolia along the Ashley River. Each of the three interprets different aspects of life in the South over a span of 350 years. The formality of Middleton Place and its hedged gardens create an idyllic backdrop to its vast terraces and rice ponds. Drayton Hall is arguably the finest extant example of Georgian Palladian Architecture in America.
America’s only commercial tea farm, The Charleston Tea Plantation, is found on Wadmalaw Island just off the coast. Close by, on Jonn’s Island, is one of this country’s oldest trees: the great Angel Oak.
Additional tour opportunities include Boone Hall and its row of brick slave quarters, the newly reopened Cypress Gardens (location for many major motion pictures) the sites that interpret black history and the Gullah culture found across the Lowcountry. Finally, the intrepid visitor includes visits to Fort Moultrie and Charles Towne Landing for the complete history with an international narrative.
For more information on touring the Lowcountry and making formal plans to tour all the sites with pre-booked tours you should visit: www.Charleston.com