The Arkansas Chinese Lantern Festival is one of the most hotly anticipated events in Central Arkansas during this holiday season. We caught up with Stephanie Zhou, the project manager at Tianyu Arts & Culture Inc., to learn more about the fantastic lanterns that will be on display at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds from Dec. 8 to Jan. 14. The lantern festival is open nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Get your tickets here.
AY: What kind of fabric are the lanterns made from?
Stephanie Zhou: It’s the most typical fabric material that lantern artisans [have used] for decades. It’s like the silk with translucent texture so the light [can] easily pass through it.
AY: What do the lanterns weigh? Some are so big – is it a challenge to transport them?
SZ: These lanterns are really heavy, [because] they are made from steel frames, with thousands of LED lights inside and covered with fabric. We used 18 semi-trailers to deliver all the lanterns and material here. But there are still a lot of lanterns we made onsite, [because] it’s challenging to put them into the truck.
AY: Do the lanterns often have to be repaired? How does that process work?
SZ: Although all lanterns are handmade and covered with fabric, it’s not [as] fragile as we think. Normally, [the lanterns can] last for a whole exhibition time without repairing. Their biggest enemy actually is the sunlight, [because] the fabric color will gradually fade over time.
AY: How long does it take to craft a lantern? What is involved in that process?
SZ: It depends on the size. Normally the small piece could be made in just one day, but the big lanterns (like the Chinese dragon) will take at least six people around one week to build. To craft a lantern, firstly, the designer will draw the outline with [the] exact size on the ground, and the welder will turn it into 3-D character by welding the outline. After that, the electrician will put light bulbs inside the lantern, and then our people will cover the colorful fabric from the outside. Finally, our designer will paint all the lantern details.
AY: You have 20 artisans who make the lanterns – how many performers and other handicrafters do you have? How big is the whole company?
SZ: We have six performers and two handicrafters coming all the way from China. Our head office is in China. We also have several branches in Europe, North America and Australia as well.
AY: Do the artisans make more lanterns while they’re on the road, or were these made in advance?
SZ: Some lanterns were made in China, some were made here. It depends on the size of the lantern.
AY: How long have your artisans been traveling? How long has the festival been going on?
SZ: We’ve been traveling around the U.S. since 2015. Our first lantern festival in the U.S. was in Spokane Valley, [Washington]. During that event, almost half of the people in town came to see our event, which is really impressive!
AY: Where will you go next?
SZ: We have several events already on schedule for the spring in the U.S., mostly in the east coast. We are so excited to bring the event here and we really hope you guys enjoy it.
Photos courtesy of the Arkansas Chinese Lantern Festival