Two million Mardi Gras beads.
That’s how many individual beads it will take to create a mosaic mural of Natchitoches’ historic Front Street. Artist Stephan Wagner, a native of Hamburg, Germany, is bringing his Bead Town Louisiana project to Natchitoches for a six-month residency to create a 48-foot illuminated mural commemorating the city’s upcoming tri-centennial. It’s slated to be finished in December. Wagner plans to enlist the help of local residents to complete this giant art project. He finds the process is a family affair that’s open to all skill levels. Wagner described how he applies the beads.
“They need to be all cut off the strand – one by one. That takes a little awhile," Wagner said by phone. "That way they also fit tighter together and it looks really, really sharp. I outline all the images with a glue that is called E6100. Believe it or not, it actually comes from Pineville, Louisiana."
Bead Town is a traveling art exhibit of dozens of Mardi Gras bead mosaics that highlight the cultural and natural resources of all parts of the state. The exhibit will travel nationwide next year to promote Louisiana tourism. Wagner said Bead Town projects have been completed in towns like Ruston and Winnsboro, and of course New Orleans.
“When you travel, people always say, Where you from? You say, Louisiana, and people say, Oh, you’re from New Orleans. But the goal of Bead Town Louisiana is that we showcase all of Louisiana. It's the cotton field of Winnsboro, the sweet potato fields of Delhi, or the pine or sugar cane," Wagner said.
Literally tons of Mardi Gras beads are tossed each year, and many strands end up in landfills. Wagner's art is an upcycling effort. An opening reception for the Northwestern State University Bead Town exhibit will be held at its Hanchey Gallery Saturday, June 15, at 5:30 p.m. A second Bead Town: Natchitoches exhibit will be installed at the Natchitoches Arts Center next week. The grand opening for that event is Friday, June 21. Workshops on how to make these mosaics will begin June 25 at t the NSU Print Shop.