By Renae Brabham
When we arrived at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens for the Lights of Magnolia display in collaboration with China's Zigong Lantern Group, the lights were competing with a brilliant fuchsia sunset to the east. But the sun took its final bow making way for a production that ultimately stole the show.
I had been excited since before Christmas to see it and avoided looking at friends' pictures (the best I could) on Facebook and Instagram. This wasn't neccesary though, considering no picture anywhere could rival what I saw in person.
Upon entering, my husband, two friends and I were greeted near the ticket booth by a gorgeous peacock lackadaisically foraging the grass for a late evening snack. Minutes later he flew to one of the moss-laden oaks and posed in one of the most beautiful silhouettes I have ever seen.
As we approached the arches, the “oohs and ahhs” began. The 3/4 mile stretch of phantasmagoric eye-candy was filled with people of all ages. Glee, amazement and gasps of awe were heard from the smallest to the oldest around me joined in concert by my own. I slowly moved from one display to another through the slack-jawed, wonderstruck crowd.
I talked to strangers too overcome not to speak about what we are seeing; the colors, miles of silk, weight of bent steel, precision, perfection, artistry and intensity set against a backdrop of dripping moss and towering oaks.
The result was an incredible marriage of lights and natural flora; the lighted alligators among the low forest, huge butterflies alongside camellias' winter blooms.
We wound our way around the fairy tale children’s section, the ark, fields of butterflies, the ladybugs and more. Trees and paths brimmed with brilliant Avatar-sized blooms while dripping icicles formed a canopy overhead along with the hundreds of LED-lit Chinese lanterns.
The panda, lion and zebra displays were just as dazzling. And don't forget to look for the surprise fabrication materials, one of which is thousands of bottles of colored water as tiles!
The Chinese Zodiac wall was a huge hit as everyone searched out their birthday year and sign and posed for pictures.
And then — there he was: the 200-foot dragon.
The dragon being one of the most majestic lantern displays built on-site from a variety of materials including silk and chinaware, LED lights, and bent wire.
Zigong Lantern Group's world-renowned artisan Hong Jun Deng is the mastermind responsible for this magnificent dragon. Through an interpreter he told Herb Frazier, the Public Relations Director for Magnolia Gardens, that it was the biggest one he's ever made. The head towers 45 feet into the moss-draped trees while the body's scales are made of 26,000 porcelain plates individually attached with thread.
I stood transfixed at this piece for a long time in wonder. I crept as close as I could admiring plates, threadwork, silk, everything, when I turned to find my husband, a man of Asian descent stood smiling at me from across the path. I smiled back. I think the other gentleman was pleased to see the work of his culture so greatly appreciated by the crazy lady about to tip over the rope trying to get a better look.
For more stories about the fabrication, process and people behind it, please check out Frazier’s stories based on his artisan interviews here.
As we exited the last arch, my friend touched my shoulder. "Look back," she said. The gorgeous lights were narrowing and dimming with each step away. A perfect end to 2019. Hello 2020.
Thank you to the powers that be for bringing this lantern festival to life. Visitors have until March 15th to be awestruck. Don’t let it slip by. Hours are 5:30 - 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. On-site parking and shuttle fees apply. Additional information and ticket options can be found by visiting lightsofmagnolia.com. All photos credited to Don Brabham.