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Lantern Festival at Missouri Botanical Garden

Elaborate Chinese lanterns are impressive art pieces by day and are striking images after dark.

Chinese artisans have worked for weeks to set up a new exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Garden that began its nearly three-month run on the garden's ground. Recent daytime visitors to the garden have had a good look at the art pieces, crafted primarily of colorful silks and molded steel, but it's at night that the artwork really shines, hence the name, "Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night."

The exhibit, which officially opened Saturday, runs until Aug. 19. Admission is $22 for adults and $10 for children (ages 3 to 12), with discounts for Garden members.

The Missouri Botanical Garden brings an unprecedented international exhibition to St. Louis for a limited run this summer. “Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night” features elaborate, illuminated works of art from China. The striking sets, crafted primarily of colorful silks and molded steel, showcase Chinese culture, traditions and symbolism through larger-than-life displays lit for evening viewing. Experience “Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night” from May 26 through August 19. The Grand Opening Weekend celebration is May 26-28 from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. all three days; exhibition evenings continue from 6 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays, May 31-July 29, and nightly from August 1-19 (last entry at 9 p.m.). Admission is $22 for adults and $10 for children (ages 3 to 12), with discounts for Garden members. Lantern Festival is presented by Emerson. Grand Opening Weekend is presented by Wells Fargo Advisors. Learn more at www.mobot.org/lanternfestival.

“When most people think of a Chinese ‘lantern,’ they immediately think of a small, round, hanging paper lantern,” said Lynn Kerkemeyer, special exhibits and events manager at the Missouri Botanical Garden, in a news release. “Visitors will be overwhelmed when they see what our ‘lanterns’ actually are. These are incredible, vivid, elaborate sets created from thousands of pieces to form amazing, large-scale works of art. When illuminated at night, they are nothing short of awe-inspiring!”

The Lantern Festival sets are erected outdoors throughout the northern half of the Missouri Botanical Garden grounds, anchored in grassy areas, pools and fountains. People, plants, animals, buildings and other scenery elements are created in three-dimensional form by shaping steel to make an inner framework for each piece. Trained artisans brush the armature with special liquid adhesive and stretch pieces of colorful silk tightly across it to form the lantern exterior. Seams are trimmed with a shiny gold ribbon for extra finesse. Facial and other fine details are hand-painted. Interior lights make each piece pop brilliantly against the evening sky.

Each lantern set portrays an aspect of Chinese culture, history and tradition. Mythical dragons, traditional symbols of the Chinese people, are represented in many forms, from the mighty Welcoming Dragon to the towering Dragon Embracing the Pillars to the replication of Beijing’s intricate Nine-Dragon Mural. Several Chinese legends are depicted in great detail, including the celebrated tale of Jiang Tai Gong Fishing and The First Emperor’s Quest for Immortality. Representations of the Terracotta Army warriors, Buddha, panda bears and lotus flowers showcase symbols and figures from China.

Several sets are composed of creatively recycled materials with silk accents. Tiny glass medicine bottles filled with colored water are tied together to create the Qilin, a mythical hoofed creature that is part dragon, part lion. Approximately 4,600 recycled plastic water bottles form the Sail Boat installation. Around 40,000 individual blue-and-white pieces of porcelain dishware are painstakingly hand-tied with kite string and transformed into the Porcelain Dragon set—a pair of giant creatures fighting over a pearl in the Garden’s central reflecting pools.

Hours for the Lantern Festival are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then nightly from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. with the last entry to the garden at 9 p.m. Visitors are invited to stroll through the Garden at dusk to experience the ambiance and elements of traditional lantern festivals in Asia and to toss an oversized coin with dangling red ribbon into the special wishing tree. Pocket change can be turned into good luck by ringing one of the gongs for good health, wealth or happiness. Tokens can be purchased to exchange at traditional artisan tents for souvenir merchandise and experiences, such as pearl engraving, seal carving or Jianzhi (paper cutting) silhouettes. There are nightly stage performances. Asian merchandise and souvenirs are available at the Lantern Festival Bazaar, with Asian-inspired fare available at the Food Court.

Those who join or renew a Missouri Botanical Garden membership on site during the Lantern Festival will receive free same-evening admission for two adults and children 12 and under and also will receive discounted Lantern Festival evening tickets of $15 for adults and $5 for children (ages 3 to 12) for the remainder of the exhibition. Visit www.mobot.org/membership or call (314) 577-5118 for more information.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is located at 4344 Shaw Blvd. in south St. Louis, accessible from Interstate 44 at the Vandeventer exit and from Interstate 64 at the Kingshighway North and South exit. Free parking is available on site and two blocks west at the corner of Shaw and Vandeventer. Visit www.metrostlouis.org to plan a route using public transportation.

For general Garden information, visit www.mobot.org or call (314) 577‑5100 (toll-free, 1‑800‑642‑8842). 

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