Illuminated Hudson Valley: one giant ladybug at a time

LIGHTSCAPES is an over-sized light exhibit created by a team at Historic Hudson Valley to celebrate the coming of spring. It features hundreds of flowers and insects. Photo courtesy of CNN

Imagine yourself surrounded by thousands of glowing orbs in every color imaginable. You’ve just stepped through a rainbow of light and emerged in another world entirely. The Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, about an hour from campus, was transformed into a prehistoric, Pandora-esque landscape, more aptly named LIGHTSCAPES, filled with 15-foot-tall “live” Luna Moth creations and a centipede large enough to walk under. Why is it called LIGHTSCAPES in all capital letters you may ask? According to the event page: “Be­cause it’s JUST…THAT…BIG.”

If you’re looking for the first signs of spring, LIGHTSCAPES has created them in a larger-than-life fashion. LIGHTSCAPES was con­ceived by the same team that presents the an­nual Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze as a nighttime display of sculpture, light, sound and special effects. The illuminated intergalactic flora and fauna are created entirely by hand and made of recycled elements. The event is held over the course of 20 evenings in total: Thursdays, Fri­days, Saturdays and Sundays in May, plus April 29-30 and Memorial Day Monday.

The entire show takes about 45 minutes to walk through and every second is a fully im­mersive experience. Before you even get to the historic landscape of the Cortlandt Manor where the show takes place, you encounter an entirely transformed Manor overgrown with giant luminous flowering vines and teeming with glowing ladybugs the size of dogs. Next, you walk through a newly created Bubble Tun­nel that surrounds you in the rainbow.

If you want to enter the Colorwheel Castle, you must first navigate a drawbridge to cross the River of Light. After you make your way through Caterpillar Cavern, you will discover a colossal praying mantis and a massive mayfly. Throughout the display, you encounter over 7,500 tulips, hundreds of butterflies, about 100 giant ladybugs and a giant turtle, to cite a few. There is also an interactive silhouette wall that allows you to dance with your own shadow. Creative Director Michael Natiello led a small team of Historic Hudson Valley staff and local artists to create the pieces of art on display and the lighting was designed by professional light­ing designer Jay Woods.

As you walk through the display, you are ac­companied by music created specially for the event. This year, the Historic Hudson Valley special events team teamed up with Phish col­laborator Steve Pollak, also known as The Dude of Life, and Charlie de Saint Phalle. To create all new music and sound effects that you’ll hear throughout the experience. In addition, the event is sponsored by their founding sponsor Entergy, presenting sponsor Westchester Med­ical Center, seasonal partner Green Mountain Energy and LIGHTSCAPES’s media sponsor WHUD 100.7 FM.

LIGHTSCAPES is appropriate for people of all ages and abilities. The interactive landscape is handicap accessible and fun for all. There are even local vendors selling food for satiating those hunger pangs. Spring-themed sweets and baked goods are available from Geordane’s of Irvington and Blue Pig of Croton offers organic sorbet and ice cream sandwiches.

If you’re looking for a good way to remember the event or are just looking for an excuse to pull out your wallet, there is an exciting new se­lection of LIGHTSCAPES gift items. LIGHTS­CAPES has been working with Suzanne Chris­tine, famous for her Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze oil paintings, and will be offering many special gifts featuring her two new LIGHTSCAPES paintings. All of these great items are manu­factured in America: A gorgeous 100 percent cotton throw, magnets, beautiful lined journals, colorful notecards and postcards, bookmarks, t-shirts and caps. In addition, there are deli­cious themed cookies shaped like fairies and turtles and mushrooms made by Flour and Sun Bakery in Pleasantville, and a strawberry syrup and blueberry lemon topping you can add to your own bakery creations.

There even will be items for cooking your own spring-appropriate meal or starting your own garden such as seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Library. To decorate your garden, you can find dragonfly and butterfly lanterns, whimsical teapots, ceramic frogs and gnomes, bee-shaped birdhouses, ladybug timers, butter­fly paperweights, capiz shell boxes, dragonfly watering cans, peony vases, a fun mushroom bank, a beautiful fairy house and boxwood topiaries to name a few. You can appease chil­dren, as well with an array of colorful and fun toys and books that light up, make noises, edu­cate and entertain.

And there is no reason to fear for your wal­let. Although you have to buy a ticket, parking at the Van Cortlandt Manor is free and your drive will be well worth it with the breadth of other events in the area. During the day, you can check out tours of Kykuit, the Rockefel­ler estate, Washington Irving’s Sunnyside and Philipsburg Manor. On May 14, there’s a fun daytime event called Discover Pinkster!, which is an African-American celebration of spring at Philipsburg Manor. If you are more interested in the art scene, it would be worth your time to visit the Union Church of Pocantico Hills. It contains stained glass windows by Marc Cha­gall and Henri Matisse.

LIGHTSCAPES offers something for people of all ages and interests. Whether you’re in it for the lights, the music, the shopping or even the events offered in the area during the day, there is something for you over by the Van Cor­tlandt Manor.

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