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Start the (Chinese New) Year with a Bang

As the Lunar New Year gets underway, a small room welcomes the Chinese New Year in a big way. For the first year, the Chinese Thorne Miniature Room has been decorated with splashes of crimson and equipped with tiny fireworks.

According to legend, the Chinese New Year started with the arrival of a menacing creature named Nian who would eat livestock, crops, and people. To guard against Nian, villagers left offerings of food, displayed the color red (a frightening color to the creature), and exploded deafening firecrackers to scare away the beast.

The Art Institute welcomes the Chinese New Year by adding specially crafted (and very tiny) decorations and firecrackers. The red paper couplets—constructed of rice paper by miniatures artist Iulia Chin Lee—seen above feature the graceful calligraphy and wordplay characteristic of the short Chinese poems. The miniscule firecrackers were created by the museum’s Thorne Rooms caretaker Mican Morgan. She used rice paper, tiny cotton fibers, patience, and dexterity. Unfortunately, no dynamite.