World’s Largest Mosaic Made from Mardi Gras Beads
Thousands of tons of discarded Mardi Gras beads would be headed to a landfill after Mardi Gras season, but artist Stephán Wanger has a better use for them: the World’s largest mosaic. The artwork is entitled Sanctuary of Alegria – Home of Happiness and presents a view across the Mississippi River towards downtown New Orleans, Wanger’s hometown.
Wanger began collecting beads hoping to increase tourism in New Orleans and awareness to recycle Mardi Gras beads. The colorful mosaic was on display in New Orleans until March 2012 when it will be auctioned off by the Make It Right Foundation to raise funds for the lower ninth ward, a neighborhood in New Orleans that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The record-breaking mosaic is part of the “A Million Greetings from New Orleans” exhibit that Wanger has been working on since 2006, and measures 8 feet tall by 30 feet wide, beating the current world record established in June 2010 by a grade school class in Ireland.
Recycling is a Way of Life
Part of Wanger’s goal is using recycled materials for his pieces. As he explains, “Looking at the global consumption of goods in general and add to it the ever-increasing amount of the world’s population, I cannot stop thinking about recycling. There is a limit to the amount of land that humanity has available for landfills, there is a limit to the amount of land that humanity has available to grow its cities, and there is a limit of resources that humanity has available to produce goods. Recycling has become my way of life – it is ingrained within me like brushing my teeth twice a day.”
About 97% of all the beads that Wanger uses in his artwork are recycled, and many of them spray-painted. In preparation for the formal construction of each piece, beads are meticulously sorted by size down to the exact millimeter and perfect shade, creating a detailed and varied palette much like a painter would for painting. The resulting play of light and color recalls several Post-Impressionistic artists’ works while adding a new dimension of glitter and shine through the use of metallic, plastic and luminescent beads.
Not only does he collect discarded beads throughout Mardi Gras in an effort to clean post-parade debris, but also regularly visits salvage yards for additional materials. Through recreating scenes, images, and icons of Louisiana his art, Wanger hopes to inspire its citizens to recycle and to create.
He continues, “Along the entire gulf coast of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, carnival is celebrated. These Mardi Gras parades create over 7,500 tons of beads that wind up in landfills. If you add 50 years of Carnival history together, you have the size of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill that occurred in 2010.
The difference is that organic oil will be broken down by salt water but plastic in landfills will take thousands of years to be broken down…A consumer-based society changes old habits slowly especially when it comes to singular use of goods, but those beads need to be recycled.
I am teaching children and adults to make art out of these beads in order to increase the value of the beads in general. The beads decorate masks, old flowerpots, garbage cans, columns and so much more.”
Wanger speaks of his future plans, “I am working with three schools currently and on a major exhibit this summer to tour North America. Along with that exhibit come the 12 pieces that we have created last year with the Rudolph Matas Elementary School in Metairie which is called “Taste of Louisiana” and showcases famous food items of Louisiana and New Orleans. The third part of the exhibit is called “Louisiana: Pick Your Passion” with the Andrew Wilson Charter School in New Orleans.
“I am working with Tipitina’s Foundation right now to decorate a broken down piano (flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina) that will be auctioned off during Jazz Fest end-of April in New Orleans.” Grammy Award-winning musicians have signed all piano keys, and proceeds will benefit public schools in Louisiana in order to purchase new musical instruments. “Lastly, I am working with a school in Washington D.C. on a huge mural that will potentially break this record- all made out of Mardi Gras beads.”
All photos courtesy of Courtesy of Stephán Wanger. See more dazzling mosaics online at galeriaalegria.com.