LanternAsia at Norfolk Botanical Garden

There's an astonishing volume of color at the Norfolk Botanical Garden this spring. Some of it stems from the blossoms coming to life after a long winter's nap. But among those blooming daffodils and azaleas, visitors will set their gaze on the largest Asian lantern exhibition they've most likely ever seen.

Through the end of April, the garden will host LanternAsia, a centuries-old exhibition featuring 36 works of art representing seven Asian countries: China, Japan, India, Thailand, Korea, Burma and Singapore. The exhibit pays homage to the ancient tradition of lantern festivals that began more than 2,000 years ago in China and portrays Asian themes of nature, wildlife and ancient folklore.

The art pieces are grand in size, but some are truly colossal—like the prestigious dragon extending the length of five school buses. Most are constructed from silk and steel. More complex structures include the group of kylins (an animal in ancient Chinese mythology) created from tiny glass bottles filled with colorful liquid inside each one. Then there's the massive pagoda made up of more than 1,000,000 porcelain cups, plates, bowls and tableware binded together with over 50,000 meters of fishing line.

lanternasia china platesWho would have the patience to string together a million pieces of china with string, you ask? For about a month, mid-January to mid-February, a group of Asian artisans worked amid the cold temperatures to assemble these exquisite structures while the garden has been closed to the public. "The whole process seeing it constructed behind the scenes has been magical in itself," says Kelly Welsh, marketing and communications director for Norfolk Botanical Garden.

The exhibit starts from the moment you drive the tree-lined road toward the garden's main entrance and extends throughout various gardens. Gigantic calla lilies pop up near the rose garden. Beautiful silk swans swim peacefully up the canal. A soaring Taj Mahal towers over the native plant garden.

lanternasia swans norfolk botanical garden

An especially exciting aspect of the exhibit is that there are two ways to view it. One is during the day—where guests can stroll the 1-mile path to see the incredible details on each piece: the brilliant hues of the fanning peacock feathers; the trail of enormous flowers cascading from the hill at the airport overlook. The other is at night—when each exhibit is vibrantly illuminated to produce an entirely magical appearance—hence the exhibit's slogan: Art by Day, Magic by Night.

lanternasia dragon norfolk botanical garden

"We are so excited to welcome everyone to this amazing exhibition," says Michael Desplaines, president/CEO of the garden. "We have been working hard as a team here at NBG for the last year to activate this space and to welcome as many visitors as we can to this 175-acre oasis located in Norfolk—the arts and culture capital of Coastal Virginia."

LanternAsia will be on display through April 30, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Learn more and purchase tickets here.

Add your comment: