The Fine Art of Learning
Art in the Schools
Written by Jill Willie Photography by Tim Dunford
Last year, students from Rudolph Matas Elementary in Metairie learned about the environment, recycling, Louisiana culture, mathematical ratios, and fine art—all through one very special course.
Students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades participated in an arts project in partnership with local bead artist Stephan Wanger. Arts facilitator Tama Distler had seen a feature story on Wanger and his efforts to stimulate awareness of Louisiana culture in the post-Katrina landscape through mosaics made from individual Mardi Gras beads. She contacted him in the hopes of developing a commemorative piece for the school. As an active volunteer since coming to the United States from his native Germany, Wanger proposed something much more ambitious—a collaborative effort to create a 12-piece series to fit with his exhibit, “A Million Greetings From New Orleans.”
Wanger spent two full days each week at Matas to help direct the project entitled “A Taste of Louisiana.” Together with Distler, Stephan selected images of iconic Louisiana foods—from generic red beans and rice to a large-scale depiction of a Hubig’s Pie bag. The images were scanned and placed onto individual 4'x4' pieces of plywood. Once the scans were painted, students began the painstaking process of gluing individual beads onto the boards.
“It is an interactive, soulful experience,” Wanger said of the process. “Students get to touch the beads and see how they fit into the entire picture. They also have to practice patience. When you begin, it is easy to think it will never be finished. But, they soon see the picture forming. It has to start with one single bead.”
Student William Pinheiro said the entire experience solidified his love for the visual arts. “After I worked on the mosaic, I became much more interested in practicing my drawings,” he said.
William worked as an intern at Stephan’s Magazine Street gallery throughout the summer, helping the artist create a world-record setting mosaic of the New Orleans skyline. “I thought jobs had to be boring,” he said. “It is amazing to be here and learn from him (Stephan). I love it.”
The exhibit, which premiered this summer at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB), will travel as part of Wanger’s collection six months of the year. During the remaining months, the exhibit will be on display at Matas. ◗