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"When you think Saint Louis, think Saint Louis Front Page," a weekly publication covering the news and events in the greater St. Louis area.
by Betty Moore, SLFP.com
ST. LOUIS, MO, (SLFP.com), May 26, 2012 - This summer, the Missouri Botanical Garden highlights its "Year of China", with an elaborate exhibition, "Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night", showcasing Chinese culture, traditions and symbolism through larger-than-life, detailed scenes crafted from colorful silks and molded steel.
An opening extravaganza and parade featuring a 70-foot-long, 12-man Chinese dragon dance kicked off the weekend's festivities on Saturday morning. The colorful creature was accompanied by a 40-member drum dance and a welcoming fan dance by multi-ethnic Chinese groups at the Cohen Amphitheatre.
Hundreds of families endured sweltering heat to learn more about Chinese culture and the Chinese Lantern Festival, seen for the first time in the United States.
In remarks during the opening ceremonies at the Cohen Amphitheatre, Matthew Yu, chairperson of the 2012 Chinese Culture Days, said that "We see ourselves as stewards of the Chinese culture in St. Louis."
"When you think of Chinese culture, you think of song, dance, food, even fortune cookies," he said. "No, no, no," he laughed, "that is American invention. Do you know our ancestors invented the compass, gunpowder, paper, printing and medicine."
Yu noted that St. Louis has a strong Chinese community of more than 3,000 people. He proudly related that more than 600 volunteers donated months of planning and thousands of hours to showcase 5,000 years of Chinese culture through the Lantern Festival.
"Explore, learn and enjoy this weekend," concluded Yu. "Today, maybe the start of a long lasting friendship that you are going to start with a member of the Chinese community."
Visitors to the Lantern Festival will see 26 elaborate lantern sets erected outdoors throughout the northern half of the Missouri Botanical Garden grounds, anchored in grassy areas, pools and fountains. Many familiar structures and planted areas have been removed to accommodate the lanterns, including the water lilies in the pond in front of the newly restored Linnean House and the Chihuly's Walla Walla Onions in the reflecting ponds near the Climatron.
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, from Zigong in the western province of Sichuan, brushed 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.
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, 137-foot-long 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 well-recognized 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 twined 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.
When the lanterns are illuminated at 8 p.m. each night, interior lights make each piece pop brilliantly against the evening sky, transforming the Missouri Botanical Garden into a magical garden.
Admission to the Lantern Festival Grand Opening Weekend is $22 for adults and $10 for children ages 3 to 12. Hours are 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. all three days, with last entry at 9 p.m. each night.
The Lantern Festival continues throughout the summer. View the "magic by night," Thursday through Sunday evenings, May 31 through July 29, and then nightly, August 1 through 19 from 6 to 10 p.m. (last entry at 9 p.m.). For more information, call (314) 577-5100; 1-800-642-8842 toll free or visit: www.missouribotanicalgarden.org
Discover the Hidden Beauty of Missouri Botanical Garden
The Missouri Botanical Garden, fondly known as Shaw's Garden to St. Louisans, contains a formal English garden, traditional Japanese garden, Margaret Blanke Grigg Chinese garden, the Flower Trial Garden, greenhouses and extensive landscaping. The garden also features the Climatron Complex, water lily reflection ponds and the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening.
The Climatron® geodesic dome and rainforest conservatory was dedicated 40 years ago in October 1960, replacing an old house built in 1913. The structure incorporates principles established by innovative architect R. Buckminster Fuller and was the first application of geodesic engineering for a greenhouse. The St. Louis architecture firm of Murphy & Mackey developed plans for the facility with Garden director Frits W. Went, who coined the term, Climatron.
The dome is 70 feet high and 175 feet in diameter, permitting tall palm trees to tower majestically above the tropical vista of streams, waterfalls and 1,200 different species of exotic trees and plants. Temperature ranges from 64 to 74 degrees and average humidity is 85 percent.
Visitors can enjoy a sense of being in a jungle while making their way by orchids, passion flowers, hibiscus flowers, cycads and a number of endangered species. In 1976, the dome was named one of the 100 most significant architectural achievements in United States history.
The Garden, covering 79 acres, is located at 4344 Shaw Blvd, just south of Hwy 44 between Vandeventer and Grand. Extended summer hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays only from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Free parking on premises, as well as an extensive gift shop and restaurant with patio dining. For more information, call the GardenLine at 314-577-9400 or 800-642-8842.
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