Heart of Louisiana: John Lawson's Bead Art

Updated: Feb. 6, 2018 at 9:52 PM CST
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(WVUE) - 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 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," Lawson said.

Lawson's journey from his native England landed him in the landscape architecture school at LSU.

"Fell in love with Louisiana and stayed," he said.

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 the Mardi Gras Indians.

"The idea is that it's him in costume like dancing towards us," Lawson said.

The bead art has 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," Lawson said.

"He calls this work in progress "Big Mamou," a celebration of the colorful Mardi Gras riders who gallop across Cajun  Country

"It looks like the horse is moving," Lawson said

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

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

Lawson's canvases can be unconventional, like this baby grand piano in the Voodoo Two Lounge in New Orleans.

"My work consists of getting to the bar at 8 in the morning when the people were cleaning it, and sit down and start working on this piano," Lawson said. "And then I would go home at 2 or 3 in the morning when they were closing up, because this piano was taking about three months."

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," Lawson said.

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.

Lawson is also an artist in residence at the Knock-Knock Children's Museum in Baton Rouge. He'll be teaching Mardi Gras mosaics workshops at the museum on Saturday, Feb. 17.

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