By 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, it’ll be getting dark – which is why carrying lanterns through the streets of Tacoma sounds like a good idea. But lighting the oncoming darkness isn’t the only goal of Tacoma’s annual Lumins Festivus: The procession of luminaries, or lanterns, is also about celebrating life in the Northwest and our unique environment – this year, the ocean.
“In a free culture, you get the best of what you celebrate,” says Adam Martin, a Tacoma blogger who began the Lumins festival last year. “So you celebrate the mind of the people. ... The Lumins Festivus is an interpretation in light of (that mind).”
For the last month or so, Lumins participants have been gathering at Good Karma yoga space downtown to make luminaries, helped along with supplies and advice from artist Samitha Hendrickson. Every Wednesday night, the two cushion-filled front rooms are loaded up with bamboo reed, tissue paper and Elmer’s glue to help participants make an art form that goes back centuries.
From the Chinese lantern tradition that has its latest incarnation as giant satin flowers, bridges and pagodas at the Washington State Fair, to the thousands of illuminated paper bags outside Mexican churches at Christmas time, luminaria have been used around the world to symbolize light and life. Luminary festivals reach from North Carolina to Nantucket, from Utah to Illinois.
For mobile luminaria – lightweight lanterns lit with LED and carried through the streets – Olympia is the local heavyweight. Its Illuminated Procession kicks off the spring Procession of the Species, and its lantern-lit Illuminated Ball each February raises funds for the Procession. Both are filled with enormous illuminated sculptures of birds, jellyfish, mushrooms, dinosaurs and mythical beasts, bobbing like soft stars in a dark night. Tacoma’s First Night is also growing as a luminary procession, with each year of the New Year’s Eve event seeing a new illuminated sculpture in the shape of that year’s Asian zodiac animal. (Coming up in 2013: a Trojan-style horse.)
And now the Lumins Festivus joins the fun, with 80 people taking part in last year’s procession to the Pantages, carrying displays of stars, moons and even a giant praying mantis.
“Olympia really inspired us big-time,” says Martin. “They’ve given us a lot of advice and help.”
As part of his goal to use the festival to educate people on environmental issues, Martin is theming this year’s Lumins around the ocean, with descriptions of and links to local organizations like the Surfrider Foundation and SAMI on his website tacomaoutsidersguide.com. All this year’s luminaries are inspired by the oceanic theme.
“None of us wants too much more detritus in the ocean,” Martin says. “The premise is simple – if you disturb the reproductivity of a species, you increase its mortality. That species will then die out.”
Around the table at Good Karma, experts and neophytes alike get to work. As Hendrickson and Martin bring over a fat fish, a couple of stars, an eel, a whale and a giant sea-horse covered in multicolor tissue squares like an Eric Carle illustration, newcomer Ann Clark waits for advice on her next step. She’s already taped together half-a-dozen circles of 1-inch bamboo cane, and joined them into a skeleton with wire-thin cane “ribs”.
“I wanted to make a starfish, but it sort of turned into a steelhead,” she explains. “I’ve never done lumin(aries) before – it’s beautiful.”
Swabbing some glue on a paintbrush, Hendrickson shows Clark how to brush over the reed surfaces before sticking on some opaque tracing paper. The tracing paper layer is for strength; it’ll then be covered (using a 50/50 glue solution) with a layer of tissue paper, which allows for a colored surface, or rice paper, which is slightly stronger and gives an elegant texture. A hole is left in the covering to insert a 7-foot LED light string, lightly taped to the bamboo frame; and the final step is to attach a means to carry the luminary – a long bent pole with a string (or several), or a frame attached to a backpack or helmet.
“It’s deceptively simple,” says Martin of the process. “Last year, I started from zero crafting experience and I was able to learn it.”
What about rain? Will the luminaries disintegrate?
“I don’t know,” Martin admits. “We’ll find out. Probably not.”
And even if the sculptures do get wet, perhaps that’s not a problem.
“I think it’s a good thing,” says Lynn Di Nino, a Tacoma artist who participated last year and who is donating the bird luminary she made for this year’s event. “Tacoma really benefits from the appearance of something festive going on downtown, to see artists at work. It’s just one more thing to confirm our reputation (as an arts town).”
“This is an event that causes a lot of joy,” says Martin.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The procession of lanterns moves from the Wright Park Conservatory (316 S. G St., Tacoma) to the theater district (901 Broadway, Tacoma), with after-party at Tacoma Cabana (728 Pacific Ave., Tacoma)
Also: Bring your own luminary lantern, or come at 5 p.m. to the conservatory, where The Really Big Table Project will offer supplies and help you to make one.
Information: tacomaoutsiders guide.comRosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568 firstname.lastname@example.org