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!