Northwest Indiana turns into 'Bead Town' as interactive art exhibit comes to benefit the Region

2014-01-05T07:00:00Z 2014-01-05T23:28:06Z Northwest Indiana turns into 'Bead Town' as interactive art exhibit comes to benefit the RegionTara McElmurry Lifestyle Editor tara.mcelmurry@nwi.com nwitimes.com

The Region prepares to host a unique art exhibit and interactive experience as famed artist Stephan Wanger kicks off the opening of Bead Town Northwest Indiana tomorrow evening.

The opening event will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts in Miller, Ind. This Twelfth Night Celebration will be the beginning of a countdown to Mardi Gras along with the start of this six-week art exhibit.

Along with visiting Gary, Wanger’s work will be on display in Crown Point throughout the six weeks. The Crown Point exhibit will be available in the historic library on Court Street.

The Methodist Hospital Foundation hosts the Bead Town exhibit as part of their Mardi Gras celebration, which is a multi-year effort to raise money for healthcare initiatives in the Region.

The art exhibit is only one part of the six week period leading up to Mardi Gras. Rob Hanrahan, executive director of the Methodist Hospitals Foundation, said each Krewe or auxiliary group of the foundation will host art workshops and events with Wanger to help raise money for the foundation. The foundation’s goal this year is to raise $400,000.

Since it was founded in 2009, the Methodist Hospitals Foundation have been able to enhance treatment options for heart patients, women in need of diagnostic breast-imaging, newborns, sick children, and many others around the Region.

Hanrahan said many cities around the country including New Orleans hosts Mardis Gras events with a focus on philanthropy. He said the foundation could help bring both the philanthropic aspect and the exciting fun that goes along with the colorful celebration.

“Northwest Indiana is where I grew up, and the people here have a tremendous amount to give,” Hanrahan said. “I think it’s our time to shine and start doing things differently than everyone else.”

This project, entitled “Bead Town Northwest Indiana,” is both a fundraiser for the foundation and a promoter for public community arts.

“(Wanger’s artwork) is incredible,” Hanrahan said. “It’s just fascinating how he can take things people discard and turn it into art. Stephan draws you into each piece with all the different colors and textures he uses.”

Wanger, a native of Germany, is a mosaic artist who works with recycled Mardis Gras beads to create scenes that represent iconic parts different cities. Wagner’s style and color for his art recalls Post-Impressionistic Pointillism, while also emulating techniques used in pop art.

One of Wanger’s pieces holds the Guiness World record for longest bead mosaic. The Natchitoches Bead Town mosaic is 48 feet in length and is eight feet tall. More than two million beads make up different landmarks of the Louisiana city. The artwork took Wanger six months to complete with the help of dozens of community members. This mosaic is just one of many that will be on display in the region during the countdown to Mardi Gras.

Wanger got his start in mosaics when he was down in New Orleans lending his carpentry skills to the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

“I had too much down time at night,” Wanger said. “I started working with leftover Mardi Gras beads.”

After doing some research, Wanger found out more than 10,000 tons of trash is created by the Mardi Gras parades.

During this time, Wanger also heard a lot in the media about whether or not, New Orleans was even worth rebuilding after the hurricane destroyed so much of the city back in 2005. “It’s not beneficial to the youth of Louisiana or the kids anywhere to hear those things about their city,” he said.

The combination of those two facts—and an advertisement Wanger saw encouraging Louisiana residents to be tourists in their own city—inspired him to start creating bead mosaics representing landmarks of Louisiana cities.

Since his work in Louisiana, Wanger has taken his Bead Town exhibits on tour to seven different cities. At each stop, Wanger will create a mosaic to represent the community he is visiting. Along with beads, he said he uses other found objects in each cities to help make the work more specific to the community for which the work represents.

“Each mosaic is very community driven,” he said. “Everyone has a hand in it.”

While in the Region, Wanger will create at least two new mosaics. One to represent each city on his tour: Gary and Crown Point.

Wanger said the Gary piece will focus on silhouettes. He said the steel mills, dunes, grass and Chicago skyline all form prominent silhouettes that help represent Gary. He said he hopes to use a lot of metals and parts that go in to make steel as the found objects to complement the beads in that piece. He said he hopes to get as many Region resident involved with each piece as he can.

Looking ahead, Wanger said he’s currently looking into finding a work space that would allow him to stay in Gary and the Region for a year to create some more pieces that will “instill a sense of pride” in Gary residents.

So far, though, Wanger said his work with Bead Town and the different communities where the exhibit has traveled has been very educational.

“It’s been a humbling experience.”

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