Think Chinese lanterns and you likely have the image of traditional paper globes hanging from the ceiling of your favorite Chinese restaurant come to mind. Odds are you are not thinking about a 200 foot long dragon or a field of dancing life size pandas, but they are actually just some of the magnificent lanterns now on display through mid-May at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, in Norfolk, Va.
As part of its 80th anniversary, Norfolk Botanical Garden is hosting LanternAsia, an exhibition of more than 40 colossal lanterns that have been placed across the garden’s 175 acres. The exhibit took a month to build and was handcrafted by two-dozen artisans who traveled from China to share the Chinese Lantern Festival tradition that dates back more than 2,000 years to the Han Dynasty. And although deeply rooted in Chinese culture, the lanterns on display are representative of several Asian countries including Japan, India, Thailand, Korea, Burma and Singapore.
This is the second time that Norfolk Botanical Garden has hosted LanternAsia. In 2016, more than 30 lanterns were displayed and attracted over 100,000 visitors. This year’s exhibition includes some of the most popular structures from the previous show such as the Porcelain Dali White Pagoda. Standing four stories high, the pagoda is constructed of one million china plates, bowls, tea cups, saucers, and spoons, each hand strung together on-site.
Previous visitors have no need to worry about déjà vu when attending this year’s exhibition as there are more than 35 brand new works of art, highlighting themes including ancient folklore, architecture, nature and wildlife. As a nod to the exhibition’s Coastal Virginia setting there are also several underwater scenes.
During the day, guests have the opportunity to see the detail and craftsmanship of these intricate structures - made from silk, steel and other eco-friendly materials - against the beautiful backdrop of Norfolk Botanical Garden. However, it is once the sun sets that the true beauty of the lanterns is revealed as the illuminated structures transform the historic garden into a kaleidoscopic fairy tale setting.
In addition to more lanterns, this year’s exhibition also includes special live performances by Chinese jugglers, acrobatic contortionists, and plate spinners.
LanternAsia is running at Norfolk Botanical Garden though May 13. Hours for the exhibit are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. until March 30, with the last entry being at 9 p.m. and the exhibit closing at 10 p.m. From April 1 to May 13, the exhibit will be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the last entry being at 10 p.m. and the exhibit closing at 11 p.m. General tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 3 to 17. Children age two and younger get in free.