When Stephán Wanger came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help the city rebuild, he was upset to see people discarding materials during the process of gutting their homes.
"They were throwing out completely good materials — wrought-iron doors, shelving and cabinets — because they were crooked," Wanger says.
When he saw how many beads were thrown away after Carnival parades, he made it his mission to show the art of recycling.
Using discarded and donated beads, along with old mirrors, cabinet doors, shelves and two-by-fours for frames, Wanger began a collection titled "A Million Greetings From New Orleans." Upon completion, Wanger plans to showcase it in Europe, starting in his native Germany, to promote New Orleans tourism.
In most of his installations, Wanger uses mostly recycled beads, only purchasing new ones if he needs smaller beads to add depth or a bead of a particular color too hard to find among the donations. The only other materials he purchases are glue and paint. Many of Wanger's beads come from St. Michael Special School, which recycles, packages and sells Carnival beads (Wanger also uses those they discard). The artist says his installation already has used more than 1 million individual Mardi Gras beads.
"A little spray paint, good glue, it doesn't look recycled," Wanger says.
Pointing to the lack of recycling facilities (until recently) in New Orleans, Wagner hopes people here value recycling.
"Every time I open the door and see a bag of beads waiting for me it's almost like someone is telling me to get to work," he says.
See the installation and other completed works at Galeria Alegria (1914 Magazine St.; www.galeriaalegria.com). Donate beads at the gallery or at Saint Michael Special School (1522 Chippewa St., 524-7285).
— Marguerite Lucas