When Vertulia Gardenhire, aged 7, examines the brightly lit lantern in the shape of a loggerhead turtle with red lobster claws at the LuminoCity Festival in Eisenhower Park, she has one question:
“Can I bring it home?”
After all, Vertulia, who lives in Freeport, is the one who created the mash-up ocean creature. But she’ll need to leave it where it is: In April, she entered a competition at the Long Island Children’s Museum to have her drawing made into a 3D lantern to be displayed at the festival that’s running now through Jan. 7.
Eleven New York children’s designs were selected for the festival’s Underwater Exhibition, seven of them through the museum competition and four through an online entry option, says Amber Cao, LuminoCity producer. “We are just looking for children with the boldest idea and some cute story behind it,” Cao says. “We need to empower the kids to be the creator, to be the artist, so that when they are very little, so they know that what you imagine you can actually make it into reality.”
The marine portion is just one part of the walk-through festival; other areas include a Holiday Village with scenes of Santa and enormous gifts, and an homage to Alice in Wonderland featuring the Cheshire cat, the White Rabbit and other story characters.
LuminoCity partnered with the children’s museum back in April to launch the children’s competition through workshops there, which had entrants aged 3 to 12. “We asked children to create fantastical creatures marrying two different kinds of creatures together into a brand-new, unique creature,” says Jeanmarie Mansfield, museum director of special projects and community initiatives. “They might take the claws of a lobster and the head of a seagull and the tail of a whale and turn it into a new creature with those attributes. And then they would write about it, so they might say something like, ‘My animal likes to clean the ocean,’ or one had their animal like to give you warm hugs if you are having a hard day.”
Sadie Rose, 11, of Seaford, for instance, created a Sea Helk — a sea horse with elk antlers made of ocean coral. “I didn’t think I was going to get picked. I’m a little shocked and at the same time very happy,” she says.
Other winners digressed slightly from the assignment.
Misha Shankar, 9, of Mount Kisco in Westchester County, for instance, created traditional narwhals but dressed them in tutus. “Since I love doing ballet in my ballet classes and I love narwhals, they’re my favorite underwater ocean creature, I wanted to combine those two to make them extra special. It likes dancing, twirling, diving all that stuff that it will do in the ocean and ballet together,” she says.
Sebastian Roldan, 7, of Bellmore made a Majestic Crab, using overlapping colorful triangles to form its modern-art body. Why a crab? “Because they walk sideways and they go like pinchy-pinchy,” he says, imitating a crab’s pincers with both hands. “A lot of people keep on telling me, ‘Oh, did you watch videos of Picasso?’ and I said, ‘No I just did it from my imagination.’”
The children’s museum has a display in its lobby running concurrently with the lantern festival that explains to children the history and significance of Chinese lantern making and displays the original drawings of the children.
Contest winners visited the museum recently with their families to see that exhibit before traveling together to LuminoCity for the first time to see how lantern artists had transformed their drawings into lanterns.
“They even included the bubbles,” says a satisfied Sadie when seeing her Sea Helk as a lantern. She had included sea grass and bubbles floating in the background of her drawing.
Sebastian was likewise thrilled with his pinchy-pinchy crab.
“On my God, it’s so good! I love it,” Sebastian says. “It looks exactly like the picture in real life. I’m honestly astonished.”
WHEN | WHERE 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays through Jan. 7, 2024, at Eisenhower Park, East Meadow
COST $34, $22 ages 4 to 12, free parking at Fields 4 and 5