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GARY | The artist who created the Bead Town exhibit that opened Thursday in Gary said he's excited about bringing his colorful works to the region.

“It’s an incredible honor for me to be here because it’s two-fold,” said Stephan Wanger, who uses discarded Mardi Gras beads to create colorful mosaics. “It’s promoting Louisiana and shows people what Mardi Gras carnival is truly all about.

"The other one is for me — it’s coming home, because I was educated and lived in Chicago for 16 years, and so it’s now an honor for me to bring something back and do something for this region.”

Bead Town: Northwest Indiana opened Thursday at the Marshall J. Gardner Center for the Arts in Gary's Miller section. Another Bead Town exhibit is on display at the old Crown Point library on Court Street.

Wanger’s visit is being hosted by Methodist Hospitals Foundation as part of its Mardi Gras celebration, which is a multiyear effort to raise money for health care initiatives in the region.

Since the foundation has been doing an annual fundraiser centered around Mardi Gras for the last three years, it seemed like a natural fit to be the host of the exhibit, said Rob Hanrahan, executive director of Methodist Hospitals Foundation.

“Partnerships are the only way you can actually raise dollars,” he said. “All proceeds from these events go toward the foundation.”

Attendees included Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who said Wanger's artwork is special to her because her father was from Louisiana and she spent a lot of time as a kid on the parade routes catching beads.

“One of the things that struck me in looking at the exhibit is the team building and therapeutic aspect of this” she said. “When you see the kids involved, it’s awesome.”

Thousands of children from Louisiana have helped Wanger create Bead Town, and local schoolchildren will assist Wanger in creating three separate pieces that will depict and grace the communities of Gary, Crown Point and Valparaiso.

Wanger also hopes to have schools help him with an exhibit that would stand alone in Gary or travel with the exhibit and promote the city.

John Cain, executive director of South Shore Arts, said he loves how inventive Wanger is in the way he uses the beads.

“I can see he does everything very carefully and certainly very artistically,” he said. “There are fanciful design elements behind it. I really like the way the pieces are composed.”

The exhibit runs through March 4, which is Fat Tuesday. For more about Wanger and his complete body of work, go to


Public Safety Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.