Lantern workshop lights up campus community

Students were shown how to make paper lanterns and dragons similar to the ones pictured above in celebration of the Lunar New Year. Beginning in February, 2024 is the year of the dragon. // Photo by Jessamyn M. Lockett Student Publications

The Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 10 this year, and many organizations on campus are preparing for festivities for the holiday. On Feb. 1, Tech’s library hosted a lantern-making workshop to help students, faculty and staff learn about the Lunar New Year and release their creativity.

It is an annual celebration of the new year based on the lunar calendar, which falls on the first new moon of the calendar. East and South Asian countries celebrate the holiday most often, and the exact celebrations can vary from culture to culture.

The lantern-making event focused on Chinese symbology and customs during the holiday, which consists of a festival period beginning on the Lunar New Year’s Eve and culminating with the Lantern Festival held on the 15th day of the Lunar Year.

The workshop attendees had the opportunity to make red lanterns mimicking those used in Lunar New Year festivities. The lanterns are used during the festivals as decoration and have become symbolic of the new year.

Organizers were prepared to accommodate 20 crafters, including students, faculty and staff, and provided free materials to each. The participants constructed their lanterns from basic materials, including paper, string and a plastic straw.

The lantern-makers began by cutting out their papers into the required shapes so that they could fold the paper into a lantern later. While cutting out their papers, instructors told the attendees about the types of symbology they could include in their lanterns.

The symbols discussed included Fú, a Chinese language character that means good luck, good fortune and blessing, plum blossoms, a beloved flower used frequently in Chinese art and poetry and bamboo, which signifies growth and strength.

Instructors also explained Chinese Zodiac symbology. The Chinese Zodiac assigns each lunar new year with an associated animal. Every year, the animal changes in a repeating rotation of 12 mythical or real animals. Students could incorporate the animal corresponding to their birth year or this year’s animal, the dragon, into their lanterns.

After the attendees finished cutting their pieces and learned about the types of symbology they could include on their lanterns, the instructors had a brief drawing lesson on how to draw the most popular symbology. Afterward, attendees started drawing, designing and drawing the items they wanted to include.

The Technique spoke to several students about the event and how they designed their lanterns.

David Adamashvili, MS CS, said he came to this event while on a tour of several on-campus activities. Adamashvili explained that he decided to draw a bunny in a different stance on each of the five sides of his lantern. The bunny was the Chinese zodiac symbol for the year that is about to eclispse.

Another student, Tanmayi Ambati, MS AE, drew different symbols on each side of her lantern. On one side, she placed bamboo, and on another, she had plum blossoms and included the Chinese Fú character.

After completing their drawings, the instructor showed students how to thread and close their lanterns, using the plastic straw for internal support.

One student, Ray Thind, Ph.D. AE, was particularly creative with her design and chose to cut out her designs instead of drawing them on paper; however, when it came time to close the lanterns, the designs did not fold with the rest of the paper. 

With some quick thinking, instructors helped her glue the cut designs to a piece of paper affixed to the inside so the design would fold with the lantern and remain visible.

The workshop was part of a series called Tactile Thursdays hosted at the library in collaboration with the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking. The Technique spoke with library and museum representatives about the event.

Catherine Manci, Public Programming and Community Engagement Specialist,  said that the library had renovated the Price Gilbert building in 2020 and was looking for ways to engage with other organizations on campus in their central space.

“We knew the papermaking museum was doing amazing things, and they’re on the edge of campus. So we thought, how can we collaborate to offer up our really central spaces students are in,” Manci said.

Anna Doll, an education coordinator at the museum, said that the musuem was happy to form a partnership on this program as they were looking to start more campus oriented programs.

The two decided to base their collaborative program on informal paper-based learning experiences because of the overlap between the library and a museum focused on papermaking, and the program has been running since 2020. The organization holds workshops on the first Thursday of every month, and those interested can register for free on the library’s website. 

The Chinese Lunar New Year lantern project stemmed from a previous program the museum ran that included arts and crafts bundles for kids. 

The women thought this project would be an appropriate demonstration for this time of year, given its proximity to the Lunar New Year’s celebrations. This is the second year that Tactile Thursdays has held a Lunar New Year lantern workshop.

Manci and Doll, who also instructed the event, said that adding tactility and hand manipulation to education can positively impact those who experience this added educational opportunity.

“It helps students, staff and faculty have a direct connection with their body. And you know, we think the connection between your brain and your body is really important,” Manci said.

Manci further explained that libraries used to be much more tactile, and researchers had to use digital mediums, like books, to find the information they were seeking. Manci said that form of connection to our physical environment has been lost to digital media, but she hopes to help restore that in part.

“A lot of times, students come into these workshops and are kind of shocked. They can’t manipulate things with their hands as they imagined that they could or cut something in a straight line. [They] are confronted with [their] body’s physical abilities and … the three-dimensional experience of being human,” Manci said.

Manci said these skills are crucial for a STEM institute because the workforce requires Tech graduates to design for the physical world.  To complete their lanterns, students needed an understanding and connection with the physical world around them.

The library can typically be seen as a stressful place where students are cramming before exams, looking for books or locating class resources, but Doll said that the workshops are also an excellent place for students to relax, release creative energy and meet new friends. 

Providing this space gives students who are stressed from preparing for exams an opportunity to focus on their mental health, according to Doll.

“It can be a bit of a brain break just because it’s a different learning style than most students are used to on campus … it also allows students to get to know each other and interact over a less intimidating and more social activity,” Doll said.

Manci and Doll believe that Tactile Thursdays offer a unique space where students, faculty and staff can release their creativity, use their hands and connect with their environment in a safe, fun way. They hope to continue offering workshops that engage and excite their communities.

The versatility of paper offers learners a great opportunity to release their creativity and enrich their education. Many do not realize that the very thing they may be writing their notes on can be used to create so much more.

Anyone from anywhere can use the paper to craft and create. Tactile Thursdays show that paper is a means of expression, communication and passion. It can be shaped into anything an artist can imagine.