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Heart of Louisiana: Mardi Gras Bead Art

One artist has spent years turning discarded beads into colorful, three-dimensional works of art.
Published: Mar. 6, 2022 at 10:07 AM CST|Updated: Mar. 6, 2022 at 10:59 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - This is that time of year when bags of Carnival beads will be dumped into trunks, closets, attics, and even trash cans but one artist has spent years turning discarded beads into colorful, three-dimensional works of art.

After the Carnival parades have passed, streets are speckled with those colorful strands of plastic pearls that are broken or simply not snatched out of the air. It was that kind of post-parade scene in New Orleans that inspired artist John Lawson.

“I was looking out the avenue and the trees and it just looked like this mosaic of color and beauty,” said Lawson.

His journey from his native England landed him in the Landscape Architecture School at LSU.

“Fell in love with Louisiana and stayed,” added Lawson.

But art became his life’s work. Lawson would scoop up shopping carts full of beads along parade routes. And those beads became the raw materials for his mosaics. And naturally, many of his creations focus on Louisiana and Carnival and colorful traditions like Mardi Gras Indians.

“The idea is that it’s him in costume like dancing towards us,” noted Lawson.

The bead art has a three-dimensional form.

“So right now, I’m just laying in the initial colors and then I will get back behind it and clean it all up,” explained Lawson.

He calls one of his works still in progress, ‘Big Mamou.’ It is a celebration of the colorful Mardi Gras riders who gallop across Cajun Country.

“It looks like the horse is moving,” described Lawson.

The process is time-consuming. It involves using a special formula of hot glue, adding strands of color, and then filling in any space with smaller beads.

Lawson calls another piece, ‘Floodline.’ It’s a reference to the scars that Hurricane Katrina left on New Orleans and holds personal photographs that were ruined by the flooding.

Lawson’s canvas can be unconventional, like a baby grand piano in the Voodoo Two Lounge in New Orleans.

“My work consists of getting to the bar at 8:00 in the morning when the people were cleaning it and sit down and start working on this piano. And then, I would go home at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning when they were closing up, so these pianos take about three months,” said Lawson.

Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau comes to life with beads above, below, and all around the black and white keys, covering every inch of the piano.

“I generally take it to an automobile body shop and they lacquer it up,” added Lawson.

It’s a spectacular use of left-over Carnival beads that creates colorful characters and a lasting impression of the fun, the excitement, and the whimsical nature of Mardi Gras.

CLICK HERE for more on John Lawson’s Mardi Gras bead art.

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