A Glowing Garden

07 Nov 2019

Magnolia Plantation welcomes brilliant lights of Chinese lanterns

By Teri Errico Griffis

Photos provided by Lights of Magnolia

Chinese lanterns were first introduced as early as 25 AD, intentioned as lamps for Buddhist worship during the Eastern Han Dynasty of the Chinese Empire. It seems only fitting that cultural craftsmanship so timeless and significant will soon be displayed in one of America’s most historical and oldest gardens—Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

Nearly a year in the making, Lights of Magnolia comes as a collaboration with the Zigong Lantern Group in Zigong, China. China’s largest lantern manufacturer, the company has previously exhibited in other countries—even other states, such as Wisconsin and Texas—in zoos, amusement parks and other public areas. 

The Zigong Lantern Group long scoured the country to find an American garden venue suitable and large enough to produce a festival. Having heard of Magnolia Plantation here in Charleston, they were enthusiastic about an opportunity to collaborate.

“We immediately jumped on it,” says Sheira Goldweber, who coordinates Magnolia’s weddings as well as promotions and special events. “When they told us they were already familiar with Magnolia and had ideas of incorporating these lanterns into our historic gardens, we were honored.”

The exhibit, which runs November 15 to March 15, 2020, features custom lanterns designed solely for Magnolia Plantation, never seen elsewhere. 

Renderings were submitted to the garden’s staff, and the two parties communicated—amidst the wonder of speaking in two separate languages—until everyone felt the designs were in perfect harmony with the garden.

“Many of the displays that Zigong is creating are reflective of the flora and fauna of the Lowcountry,” says Herb Frazier, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Magnolia. “We have camellias, peacocks, azaleas. They will be an enhanced version of what you see every day at Magnolia.” This will also be the first time Zigong Lantern Group has created an alligator in lights.

“This is the perfect opportunity to highlight the best of our public gardens with a connection to what is the best of the aesthetic and manufacturing side of Chinese culture,” says Kirk Brown, Magnolia’s National Outreach Director. 

A team of Chinese designers arrived at the plantation in October, housed in 11 trailers and a space equivalent to a football field, to begin the 6-week construction of the exhibit. 

 “Steel rods are welded to create the unique shapes and then they are covered with silk, which is how the colors can be so saturated,” says Brown. “Silk takes dye very well, and gives you that rich, very vibrant color, unlike cotton or wool. It is a very color-friendly fabric, so it’s highlighting everything with the best materials that could possibly be used.”

Inside the garden, the festival’s route will take pedestrians through four different segments. 

The first features typical Chinese lanterns, a 200-foot dragon, and more. From there, travel to the children’s section with large, whimsical, fairy-tale-inspired lanterns, followed by the nature display, filled with butterflies, ladybugs, camellias, azaleas, and other Lowcountry-inspired flora lanterns.

Last is the animal area, which includes the alligator, peacocks, and a panda lantern in Magnolia’s bamboo forest. 

“The mission and vision of any American public garden is to show the general public nature in forms that have never been experienced or seen before,” says Brown. One of those unique experiences, interestingly enough, is seeing the garden at night. Visitors will pull up to the entrance and be greeted instantly by rosy-glowing lanterns and dangling icicle lights, all dripping with light and color.

Visitors are expected to come from all over. Advertised throughout the country, this once-in-a-lifetime experience is bound to bring newcomers to the garden – and the city. 

“This is not only a big event for Magnolia; it’s a big event for Charleston,” says Frazier. “It’s at a time of the year when tourism declines because of the weather, so we’re hoping that this event will boost tourism. More hotels will be filled, more restaurants will be visited. More people will come to Magnolia.”

“There’s no doubt that this is a Lowcountry experience because it’s very much related to this space, place, and time,” says Brown. “The fact that Magnolia is America’s oldest garden, working with one of China’s premiere manufacturers of one of its oldest exportable crafts, this is a very special thing. We all feel as though we have been gifted in grace with this incredible opportunity.”

Following a ribbon cutting ceremony on November 14, the exhibit will open on November 15 from 5:30 to 9:30 PM Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets are $28 with fees for adults, $13 with fees for children ages 6-12 and free for children ages 5 and under. Additional fees for on-site parking and shuttles apply. For more information and ticket options, visit www.lightsofmagnolia.com


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