Beauty Underneath – Stephan Wanger, artist
Special thanks to artist Stephan Wanger of Bead Town and Galeria Alegria, who who will donate a custom work from his “Beauty Underneath” series to benefit East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity via the Hope for Habitat: Katrina X project.
This commissioned work of art, created with Mardi Gras beads and additional elements, will feature the eyes of the high bidder or person of his or her choosing, based on photos provided by bidder. The individual’s name and date of choosing will also be incorporated into the piece. Approximate framed size is 36″ high x 60″ wide and is valued at $7,500.
The finished artwork will be delivered approximately 2 – 3 months after the auction ends.
Stephan Wanger’s Bead Town
A man. A vision. And a Louisiana legacy.
Stephan Wanger’s Bead Town is the story of one man with a vision that has taken on a life of its own, inspired by the rubble of Katrina, first nurtured in small Louisiana communities, embraced by over 12,000 children as part of an arts-in-education program, and celebrated by thousands of people who have had the opportunity to experience the magic of this project. It’s the essence of rebirth through the arts, one town, one city, one state at a time.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Bead Town is the universal reaction it draws from all who have an opportunity to experience it. Though knowing in advance that the exhibit contains works of art created by upcycling Mardi Gras beads, visitors are in no way prepared for just how spectacular the works are when seen in person. Cliché as it may sound, the photos do not do the works justice. In fact, they don’t even come close.
The reactions are generally a combination of audible gasps and jaw drops, a concurrent sense of amazement and amusement. To see tens of thousands of tiny plastic spheres transformed into shadows and highlights, shapes and textures, larger than life images with incredible details, is simply astonishing.
From Hamburg to New Orleans, with love.
It’s a fascinating story in which the cultural differences of two communities half a world apart are outnumbered by striking similarities. A world in which all roads ultimately led Stephan to the place he now calls home, and where he says, at the end of his life’s journey, he will be buried.
Stephan grew up in Wilhelmshaven, a coastal town in Lower Saxony, Germany, home to the country’s only deep water port and its largest naval base. He says that, like Louisiana, the area is quite flat, surrounded by water and offering an abundance of seafood.
He was fourth generation Navy, serving his country for four years. During that time, he traveled to over 50 cities in 20 countries. Among the areas he visited were Chicago and the St. Lawrence Seaway, and the young soldier instantly was enamored, and he made the decision to move to the States.
He soon learned that the high school certificate he had earned in his homeland would not qualify him for college admission in the United States. In 1992, after earning his GED, Stephan enrolled in Chicago’s Columbia College and graduated just two and a half years later with a degree in marketing and communications.
Stephan took a job as director of special projects during the World Soccer Cup in 1994, promoting the city of Chicago to national and international audiences. That was followed by work in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention in 1996, for which he is quick to clarify that his contributions were bipartisan. He then became a business development director for a financial software company. Though such proved financially successful, he says that he didn’t find it emotionally fulfilling. That was about to change.
An opportunity to make a difference.
It was then that Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast. As Stephan watched the news, he couldn’t help but reflect on the similarities of the areas devastated by the storm and his homeland, and the attitude of many questioning whether it was appropriate for the city to attempt to rebuild. He could not have disagreed more with those who opposed such.
With tremendous gratitude for the opportunities that life in the U.S. had provided to him, Stephan strongly felt that it was time to give back. He headed to the Crescent City, taking a job in construction where he felt the most assistance was needed.
From trash to treasure.
During this time, Stephan says the days were long but the nights were quiet, offering time for much reflection but few ways to expend his abundant energy. He found himself contemplating over the debris piled up along the streets, destined for landfills. Inspired by a desire to reduce the environmental impact and a vision for the potential for transformation of trash into treasures, he pulled from the piles a myriad of unlikely art supplies, including some water-stained antique columns, battered doors, terra cotta planters and Mardi Gras beads–lots and lots of beads. The architectural remnants became his canvases and the beads his “paint,” and the Bead Town concept was born.
Strings of the beads soon graced the planters in semi-ornamental designs, a technique that would later be perfected by the placement of beads, one by one, enabling greater detail in the imagery created.
It was then that Stephan saw a local tourism commercial that encouraged New Orleanians to “Be a tourist in your own hometown.” That inspiration, combined with the marketing expertise he had acquired in Chicago, led him to what ultimately would become iconic beaded murals capturing the images that make Louisiana so special–the food, the culture and the architecture.
Telling the story.
It became Stephan’s mission to tell the story of Louisiana–not just New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but also the smaller Main Street communities that collectively weave together the rich cultural fabric of the state. The project has taken him to numerous schools for arts-in-education programs, with thousands of children learning the beading process and participating in the creation of additional murals that capture the unique culture of the state.
It’s an effort that has produced several Guinness World Records as the World’s Largest Mardi Gras Bead Murals. The first consisted of over one million beads on an eight foot by 30 foot canvas, with the record holder since bested twice with even larger murals. The current record holder is Une Rue Principale en Louisiana, a 48 foot wide by 8 foot high mural that contains over two million beads.
Today, the Bead Town project is about much more than recycling and creating art. The program is being woven into school curriculum and community programs, teaching art appreciation, history, mathematics, team building skills and more. Wanger is currently working with the Gary Community School Corporation to create an exhibit with nearly 20,000 students of the Northwest Indiana region to create over 20 pieces that will highlight the forgotten town of Gary, Indiana, and at the same time, install pride, resourcefulness and entrepreneurship within the youth of Gary.
Wanger says it’s the antithesis of today’s instant gratification society, stating that people need to recognize that, just as with all of the Bead Town artworks and Guinness World Records, things like education, rebuilding and all of life’s milestones take time.
He compares the project to that of running in a marathon–in the long run, he says, it doesn’t matter if you finish it in two hours or in eight hours, what matters most is that you finish it. With Bead Town, that is achieved one bead at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time.
This is Bead Town and Stephan Wanger is its Mayor.
He has served his people well.
See the creation process here: The making of Bead Town works.