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A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square

A sneak peek at how the magnificent glowing lanterns are created.

The Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival returns to Franklin Square May 1 through June 30, bringing larger-than-life lighted sculptures that transform the square into a glowing wonderland. These pieces of art are created by a Chinese group of artists using traditional methods combining artistry and technology (and thousands of lights). We went behind the scenes as these spectacular structures were created, and it was an incredible process.


When the festival opens, Franklin Square will be filled with 28 all new illuminated installations made up of 1,500 individual works of art. Each of these lanterns, from an individual glowing lily to the 200-foot dragon, are carefully created through a process including welding, electric work, silk wrapping, and painting.


While the lanterns look light and ethereal, they all have a steel frame that is welded into existence from the ground up. After that is built, it is wired with a series of LED lights. In total, the lanterns will contain over 15,000 of these little white bulbs.


Once the skeleton is done, the next step is wrapping the structure in large sheets of colored silk. Depending on the size and complexity of the piece, this can involve several people on ladders, carefully measuring and wrapping each color to bring the lantern to life.


Next comes the fine-tuning. After a piece is wrapped, it is painted to add texture, depth, and intricate patterns. This could be anything from texturizing the feathers of a swan to creating a full-scale painting on a plain lantern. By its nature, the work must be done outside, and must withstand any weather the park may face.


Watching this all unfold in the park’s backstage area really demonstrated how much work goes into creating this amazing event. We can’t wait to see the finished product when it opens May 1. We’re especially excited about the walk-through Great White Shark lantern, which has yet to be completed! Stay tuned for more news about the event, and a full preview at the end of the month.


Photographs by Laura Swartz.

Contributing Writer