Many hands help artist share vision of Louisiana life

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Volunteers unveil the world's largest beaded artwork Friday during the opening of Beade Towne Community Art Project and Exhibition in Slidell. The mural, which is 42-feet by 8-feet, was made using more than 1.5 million Mardi Gras beads and put together by volunteers and artist Stephan Wanger.
Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Volunteers unveil the world's largest beaded artwork Friday during the opening of Beade Towne Community Art Project and Exhibition in Slidell. The mural, which is 42-feet by 8-feet, was made using more than 1.5 million Mardi Gras beads and put together by volunteers and artist Stephan Wanger.

The vibrantly colored mosaic murals that grace the walls of the former Community Feed Store in Olde Towne represent artist Stephan Wanger’s vision, but many more hands were involved in creating his artistic tributes to Louisiana life.

Thousands of students have worked to create the murals, beginning with those at Rudolph Matas Elementary School in Metairie and Andrew Wilson Charter School in New Orleans and now spreading to other schools and other towns in Louisiana. And the 42-foot-by-8-foot night scene of the New Orleans skyline — the largest such piece in the world — is made up of 1.5 million beads placed in part by thousands of tourists who came through Mardi Gras World when Wanger was creating it late last year.

The Slidell display, which will run through April 5, will give art students in eastern St. Tammany Parish the same opportunity to take part in creating murals that salute their area. Wanger plans a swamp scene, a depiction of the Old Town Soda Shop and a piece that will show the eye of a hurricane passing over Slidell’s historic center.

Students as young as 6 can participate in the work, cutting and sorting beads and gluing them to the murals under Wanger’s guidance.

He sees the project as a way to teach children about Louisiana — each series has paid tribute to different aspects of the state. For example, the Rudolph Matas’ pieces celebrate “Tastes of Louisiana.’’ One mosaic is vivid with red beads, matte and shiny, bringing a crawfish boil to life; another employs muted grays, whites and beiges in a piece titled simply “Oysters.’’ Another mural, created in Franklin Parish, shows the snowy heads of cotton bolls growing in the field.

But Wanger also says the murals teach children the value of persistence. The work is goal-oriented, he said.

“They see it progressing, see it coming to fruition,’’ he said. Rather than turning out a piece of artwork quickly that will be posted on the family refrigerator, they can be part of something bigger.

Claire Bienvenu, herself a teacher, brought her two daughters, Vivienne and Julia Spiess, to the exhibit Friday along with one of their friends, Kyleigh Remerow.

Vivienne, 10, looked closely at a mural while Julia, 7, ran her fingers over its bumpy surface. Bienvenu plans to have the girls participate in one the workshops Wanger will be conducting for children in the coming weeks.

“I like the whole concept of recycling’’ Bienvenu said.

The idea of representing what’s special about Louisiana was also appealing. But she also was interested in what her daughters will learn about art from the exercise, noting that the works employed pointillism as well as mosaic technique.

Wanger, a native of Germany who came to Louisiana after Katrina, plans to continue the project known as Bead Town and keep it as a traveling exhibit.

There are so many subjects he hasn’t explored yet, he said, ticking them off — a shrimp boat, a sugar cane field, a Zydeco band.

The Slidell exhibit, which goes by the moniker Beade Towne in a salute to Olde Towne, will give community groups and other volunteers a chance to be involved by emailing or calling Darlene Langendonk at darlenexoxo@charter.net or (985) 643-5340 or (985) 445-7695. Gallery hours to view the murals are Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wanger is also seeking donations of beads for the Slidell mosaics.

They can be delivered to the Community Feed Store on Carey Street or in the lobby of the Slidell Technology and Cultural Arts Center at 250 Bouscaren Drive.