Traces of a replica Space Needle and Mount Rainier peeked over the fences near the Orange Gate at the Washington State Fairgrounds on Tuesday, teasing commuters and Puyallup residents with hints of what they'll see at the rebranded fair opening Sept. 6.
Artisans from Zigong, China, are hard at work fusing traditional Chinese art with familiar Pacific Northwest landmarks as part of "Luminasia, " a 2-acre outdoor lantern exhibit that includes 50,000 lights adorned with colorful, hand-painted satin.
The lantern artists are some of the hundreds of people working to complete the finishing touches ahead of the annual fair, which welcomes more than a million visitors during its 17-day run.
In addition to new and updated attractions this year, fair officials are focusing on the name change from the familiar Puyallup Fair.
Spokeswoman Karen LaFlamme said the biggest challenge has been updating signs big and small across the fairgrounds, adding more challenges to the annual prep work.
The new moniker can now be found on everything from the top of the Extreme Scream ride down to plastic garbage can covers.
"We're having to look at every single sign, " she said. "It's a lot more work to get everything changed."
At the Luminasia work site, about 50 crew members - almost 40 from China - have been designing the light displays since the beginning of August, said production manager Terry Barnett. The work takes about a month, he said.
On Tuesday, construction crews used a crane to lift the completed top of the Mount Rainier replica onto its steel frame as welders scaled the base of the skeleton that will soon be covered in snow-colored satin.
Yang Songlin, the art director of the Chinese crew, has designed the lanterns from the ground up after visiting some of the featured local landmarks for the first time during his trip.
He said he appreciated the challenge of recreating the Space Needle, a 60-foot tall display.
"This is a very famous structure so I'm proud to present that, " he said through the group's translator, Mary Zhang.
Other lanterns will feature an underwater scene of a fallen Narrows Bridge, ferries, Pike Place Market and more.
Barnett said about 15 percent of the materials were prefabricated and shipped here, but much of the work will be done over a month-long span on site.
To create the lanterns, Songlin draws the exact designs to scale, welders forge the steel frames and four electricians wire the lights before the satin covers are glued on and painted, Barnett said.
LaFlamme said the new attraction will offer something different that should appeal to all ages.
"It's so unusual, " she said. "It's awe-inspiring for people to look at what their artisans have created."
Fairgoers also can anticipate new thrills near the Orange Gate with the Rainier Rush looping roller coaster and the renovated wooden Classic Coaster, which is getting its finishing touches this week.
John Hinde supervised the five-year, $1.25 million wooden coaster project. He said the ride will run about 50 hours of tests with sand buckets strapped in the seats before it is ready for its first passengers; he will likely try it out this weekend.
The improvements have made for a smoother ride, he said.
"We gained some speed, " Hinde said.
LaFlamme said everyone will see a new side of the fair this year, even regular fairgoers.
"There's so many new and different aspects that the fair is offering this year that they haven't seen before, " she said. "They'd be disappointed if they didn't come."
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Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 email@example.com @KariPlog