Mosaic artist Stephan Wanger catches Mardi Gras beads and recycles them into art. I went to the Mobile Museum of Art exhibit “Art and Design of Mardi Gras” to see costumes, float designs, crown jewels and masks, but in a hallway gallery Wanger’s work stole my attention.
His Bead Town mosaics include landscapes and street scenes which look like paintings from a distance – but they’re made entirely of Mardi Gras beads. Up close the mosaics are mesmerizing 3D masterpieces. My favorites are the depictions of New Orleans-inspired food. There’s crayfish and red beans and rice and beignets, but there’s no gumbo in Bead Town. I think I know why.
Wanger’s process begins with sorting beads by size, shape, color, material and luminescence. I collect Mardi Gras beads to make Christmas ornaments and other holiday decorations so I know they come in standard colors – purple, green and gold, the colors of Mardi Gras — plus reds like those in the crawfish and the whites and pearls in the muffaletta. Colors like mahagony, ebony, dark brown, copper, the colors of a good gumbo or roux, are rare.
The Mobile show only has a few of his Bead Town collection, which numbers a hundred, so maybe there’s a gumbo piece somewhere else. If so, it probably resembles his red beans and rice piece, perhaps with a few green onions on top.
If I take a road trip to New Orleans, on Saturday mornings I can watch children make mosaics at his free workshop at Little Vic’s Gelateria, 719 Toulouse in the French Quarter between Bourbon and Royal. Wanger worked with hundreds of Louisiana school children to create the Guinness Book of World Records largest bead mosaic, over 300 square feet. Talk about a good recycling message. Here’s an inspiring video that shows kids and artists hard at work creating the finished product. Watch the sorting process. Wow!
Wanger also does a Thursday night workshop at Vic’s Gelateria where I can create my own mosaic. Mine will depict rich, dark gumbo in a silver pot — if I can find some brown beads.
Meet the Artist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_2otRRZuxY
Mobile Museum of Art http://www.mobilemuseumofart.com/exhibitions/art-design-mardi-gras/