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A world of light awaits in Columbus

Dec. 08, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

As the days shorten and the holiday hustle and bustle boils over, nothing strikes into my Grinchest of hearts like a little light.

Well, that and gallons of black coffee and cookies.

I am a grade A sucker for the soft brush of candlelight.

I love bicycle rides under a full moon draped in cotton clouds.

I love stories and songs of that one star shining, and, of course, being a child of the 1980s, I love the warm, fuzzy chunky colored Christmas lights raggedly shining from a home's gutter.

When it comes to commercial Christmas light displays, as a card-carrying American, I must confess I dig a whole lot of wattage in the cottage.

As someone whose Pops took him to see the gone but never forgotten Rudd's Christmas Farm, I'm always on the lookout for epic light displays that would draw a 21-power-strip salute from Clark W. Griswold of "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation."

Since our Thanksgiving trek to my wife Toril's folks takes us through the wilds of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania on our way to central New York, we've tracked down some amazing displays in Christmas' past from Oglebay's miracle miles of lights and Cleveland's "A Christmas Story House" leg lamp and chunky lights, to Niagara Falls' dazzling downtown displays.

As a Christmas lights junkie, I must say it's a long slog over the third rock to find anything as magical, mystical and breath-taking as the other-worldly work of British light artist Bruce Munro.

Once rightfully called by the Washington Post "to fiber optics what Dale Chihuly is to glass," Munro has his third U.S. solo exhibit at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, a three-hour day-trip north from Huntington.

"Bruce Munro: Light at Franklin Park Conservatory" is up through Feb. 8. It is on display from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays as well as select Saturdays and Sundays in December (Dec. 8, 14-15, 21, 29). Additional holiday dates include Dec. 25, 29, 30, 31.

Not that anyone's counting but to give you an idea of the sheer scope of this exhibit, "Light" contains nearly 60 miles of optical fiber.

In addition, more than 5,700 plastic bottles, nearly 3,000 glass spheres and 48 light projectors are included in "Light." More than 4,000 man hours went into creating "Light" in the U.K., and an additional 1,400 hours went into installing it at the Conservatory.

Ah, but enough Sports Center statistics. Made up of 10 large-scale installations (including four new works created uniquely for the Conservatory), "Light," truly turns on the night as Munro tackled his first mostly-indoor large-scale project in the U.S. transforming the Conservatory's 83,000-square feet of indoor environments and three outdoor courtyards.

"He describes it like Dr. Who's Tartis, bigger on the inside than it appears on the outsides -- that is one of his best descriptions," said the Conservatory's marketing director, Lori Kingston, who used to live in St. Albans,W.Va.

Not unlike Dale Chihuly's site-specific works (many of which are still up) at the Conservatory, and perhaps even more powerful in the waning light of winter, Munro's work literally pops life and wonder into the sprawling Conservatory's wildly varying spaces ranging from the Grand Atrium (home to "Snowballs") to the entrance (home to "Icos," that has 361 clear glass spheres and two miles of optical fiber).

In the Zen Terrace, "Whizz Pops," a collection of 45 glowing spheres inspired by the gas-emitting giant in Roald Dahl's book, "The Big, Friendly Giant," bubble up between ornamental grasses bringing out a child-like wonder. That was comically testified by our son Will, who couldn't quit laughing at the Whizz Pops before re-enacting "A Christmas Story" tongue-on-the-flagpole scene with a Whizz Pop. Don't try that at home kids.

In the Bonsai Courtyard, Water Towers was, and particularly on the bitter cold night we went, a symphony of sound and color. Water flowed from nearby pond, the color-filled plastic bottles making up the 12 color Water Towers, crackled and popped as ice began to form, and the bottles themselves sang with shades of turning color synchronized to music pouring into the night from Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

If I had one shred of anger left from my sister falsely reporting on Facebook that she and Toril had beaten me and my brother-in-law Ian at cards, Water Towers had certainly melted away that and any other holiday hurry and worry.

In the outdoor Sculpture Garden lies one of Munro's most impressive and famous pieces ("Field of Light") where from flower beds grow some 2,750 slender-stemmed glass spheres that pulsate with color. Inspired by a 1992 Australian desert trip when he saw thousands of dormant seeds bursting worth from the ground, "Field of Light," is such that it seems you can feel your own imagination growing with each minute soaking in the joy of creation.

When installing this exhibit Munro said that since every garden has a unique feature that "this exhibition is more about a voyage around the garden rather than a series of stops and starts. It's important that people take away the whole memory of their visit...the sum of the whole being greater than the individual parts."

And we (the Lavender and Pruitt crew) found that true. Unlike that trainwreck of a holiday mash-up on TV with Lady Gaga and the Muppets, all of us found that Munro's works -- though certainly striking and eccentric -- thoughtfully and creatively cohabitate, thus adding to the already rich experience of the amazing flora world under dome.

As you walk between the giant bouldered walkways in the Desert Biome, "Chindi," casts a curtain of eerie light onto the giant aloe tree, entangled with the sprawling Canary Island Spurge cacti, and seemingly reaching its tentacles further toward the light.

Kingston said that since the Conservatory has never had a visitor experience that went into the nighttime, it truly is shedding a new light on the place.

"We specifically chose this time of year because we wanted to have it through the holidays not to mention having that longer window of darkness," Kingston said. "It really has given the conservatory life after dark. The interesting thing to is that people aren't just racing through here, they are stopping here (under "Snowballs") and are reading and people are really chilling out and taking their time through here which is great. I know for me this time of year all I want to do is to eat and sleep and get a blanket, so this is sort of an elixir."

So true. Oh, what a little moonlight, and 60 miles of fiber optic light, will do.

Dave Lavender is the author of "Dave Trippin: A Daytripper's Guide to the Appalachian Galaxy of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia." He covers regional travel. Follow the H-D reporter on Facebook or Twitter @DaveLavenderHD.

WHAT IS IT: A new exhibit, "Bruce Munro: Light at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens," that features 10 colorful light installations, including three brand new ones and Munro's acclaimed "Water Towers" and "Field of Light" recreated uniquely for the Conservatory spaces.

WHERE: The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, located at 1777 East Broad St., Columbus, Ohio, is in an 88-acre urban park located two miles east of downtown Columbus. (Ohio's capital city is located 2 1/2 to three hours north of Huntington).

WHEN: "Bruce Munro: Light at Franklin Park Conservatory" is up through Feb. 8. It is on display from 5 to 11 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays as well as select Saturdays and Sundays in December (Dec. 8, 14-15, 21, 29). Additional holiday dates include Dec. 25, 29, 30, 31.

BY THE NUMBERS: Nearly 60 miles of optical fiber illuminate the exhibition. In addition, more than 5,700 plastic bottles, nearly 3,000 glass spheres and 48 light projectors are included in Light. More than 4,000 man hours went into creating Light in the U.K., and an additional 1,400 hours went into installing the exhibition at the Conservatory.

WHO IS BRUCE MUNRO? This is the third solo exhibit in the U.S., for internationally renowned British artist Bruce Munro. The first in 2012 at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., drew critical acclaim and hundreds of thousands of visitors. Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art in Nashville opened the second U.S. exhibition in May, 2013.

WHAT ELSE: The Conservatory is hosting its holiday-themed Merry Days and Bright Nights, which features a slew of interactive culinary, craft and entertainment events. There's also a poinsettia tree, a model garden railway and not to miss, is the exhibit, "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown," from the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

MORE INSTALLATIONS: The Conservatory owns a signature collection of glass artwork by Dale Chihuly. Light Raiment II, a permanent installation by internationally recognized light artist James Turrell, illuminates the John F. Wolfe Palm House every day from dusk until dawn.

HOW MUCH: $15 adults, $12 seniors ages 60 and up and students 18 and up with ID and $6 for ages 3-17. It is

free for children ages 2 and under. For Conservatory Members $7.50, $6 seniors 60+ and students 18+ with ID and $3 ages 3-17.

ON THE WEB: More information about Bruce Munro: Light at Franklin Park Conservatory is available online at www.fpconservatory.org/light. Further information about the artist Bruce Munro can be found at www.brucemunro.co.uk.

GET MORE COLUMBUS INFO: Go online at http://www.experiencecolumbus.com/event-calendar to find a huge list of things to do in Columbus.

MORE TRIPPIN: Read Dave Lavender's weekly Dave Trippin' pick every Thursday in the Weekend section

DAVE'S TOP 5 AREA LIGHT PICKS: Wheeling's Oglebay lights, St. Albans Festival of Lights, a double-shot of Ashland's Winter Wonderland of Lights, and Paul Porter Park's lights in Coal Grove, Ohio, and Winterfest at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, W.Va.

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