For more than a year, the magical mules of the Walker County Arts Alliance 50-Mule Team Public Art Project have been pleasantly surprising Walker County residents as well as visitors to the area who journeyed from a medley of locations — California, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Japan, Sweden, Chile. Regardless of which mule is sighted — “Parker,” “Penny,” “Trusty,” “Starry Starry Mule,” “Molly,” or “Cosmule” — a spirit-lift and a smile always follow as these amazing creatures continue their role as our very best goodwill ambassadors. Enjoying locating these mules as a treasure hunt, individuals as well as families challenged themselves to discover, photograph, and scrapbook all of them. During the Christmas season, many of the mules sported holiday outfits as a part of the alliance’s Muletide Christmas Contest. The best-dressed winners, “Hope” and “Ed Mule Cation,” are featured in the December slots for the calendar developed along with other “mule merchandise,” which includes mugs, posters, magnets, fly swatters, glasses, coasters, tote bags, and T-shirts. By the end of the year, five more mules are expected to join the team and Mule Maps will appear at all eight Alabama Welcome Centers in the near future.
Paws on Parade
New Orleans recently joined the list with its Paws on Parade public art project organized by the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). With the overall goal to raise awareness for animal welfare, the group chose dogs unique to New Orleans — Mardi Gras Bead Dogs, a breed with a story of its own.
For more than one hundred years, Mardi Gras parade participants have thrown beads to vociferous, spirited crowds. Local lore suggests the first to throw beads may have been dressed as Santa Claus. Worn around the neck, decorating fences and homes, or hanging in the trees lining St. Charles Avenue, these once glass now plastic beads are energetically sought and avidly collected. Damaged or broken beads are frequently repurposed and recycled by children into small animals. Bead dogs, the simplest animal to make, became fundraising staples for Cub Scouts, Brownies, and other organizations. When Haydel’s Bakery, a three generation New Orleans family bakery which started in 1959 as a doughnut shop, began searching for ideas to launch a Mardi Gras children’s clothing line, they turned to Ryan Haydel’s brother-in-law, an artist who worked in the bakery at that time. One of his ideas was to use the bead dog and as Ryan, one of the current owners, noted in a video, that idea “jumped out at everybody.” Haydel’s ultimately adopted the bead dog as their mascot and had a large purple Mardi Gras bead dog created for display outside the bakery. Later, they graciously and generously partnered with the SPCA as the Title Sponsor for the Paws on Parade project and donated the mold for the 4-foot, 6-inch long, 3-foot, 6-inch tall, 50-pound bead dogs.
Since January, the SPCA’s bead dogs have been materializing all over the New Orleans area. A leisurely walk down St. Charles Avenue opens the door to a collection of sixty-nine bead dogs which are as extraordinary as their home city and silently shout a million words with their boundless vibrancy, playfulness, and humor. Glass artist Paulette Lizano designed five bead dogs and while each one is different, she incorporated two similar features- fused glass eyes and glass-coated collars. “Watch Dog,” who claims home at the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library, is painted can’t-be-missed red and covered in watch faces and clocks. Every noted time is significant to Paulette, her family, and sponsor Gervis Family Foundation. A native of New Orleans who partners with her parents in Lizano’s Glass Haus, Paulette takes pleasure in being part of a project “giving animals a voice.” Expressing similar thoughts about Paws on Parade, Title Artist Alex Beard, creator of “Elephant Dog,” noted that the project, which by its nature brings the diverse artistic community together, has two important ends. It allows creative expression to be part of the fabric of the community and helps provide care for the animals which “keep our heart rates down and our smiles wide.”
Touro Synagogue’s contribution to the parade, “In Da Dog House,” invites his visitors to step into the synagogue’s garden and give him a pat as he comfortably resides in his custom-made, recycled wood doghouse. “Tiger Paws,” sponsored by the Metairie Small Animal Hospital, is the work of Gerry Claude. She is an award winning pen and ink\watercolor artist who recreates the homes and buildings of New Orleans with a deeply personal warmth which instantly evokes connections and memories. Having been involved in art in some form all her growing up life, Gerry trained at the Richmond Professional Institute of the College of William and Mary at the recommendation of Walt Disney, whom she wrote, sent samples of her work, and asked for art training suggestions. After 28 years as a window clerk with the United States Postal Service, Gerry now pursues her art full-time and always makes room for a rescue dog, currently, Picasso the poodle. Tiger Paws, a brilliant orange, regal but friendly creature, was painted over a five-week period while ensconced on her dining room table. When Gerry had difficulty getting his stripes just right, she consulted her granddaughters who are students at LSU. While this bead dog may be modeled on a LSU tiger, Tiger Paws wins the hearts of tiger fans with allegiances across the country.
Bead Dogs march on
Lynda Woolard and the Woolard Foundation sponsored “I Believe,” who found a home in front of The Bull Dog, a beer tavern on Magazine Street. Lynda, a genuine community activist, as well as artist, photographer, and ardent New Orleans Saints fan, was one of the first sponsors to sign on. She has worked in animal rescue and welfare for twenty-five years on many levels and is a member of the Louisiana SPCA Advisory Council. Additionally, Lynda’s three rescued dogs and four rescued cats, as well as “Carrollton Cats,” her spay\neuter feral cat neighborhood endeavor, reflect her unquestionable devotion to animals.
I Believe, covered in a collage of The Times-Picayune articles about the Saints, wears black and gold Mardi Gras beads, as he stands guard at the tavern. Eventually, he will find his way home to Lynda’s and will greet her guests in the entryway to her home. Lynda laughed as she candidly explained, “For me, participating in Paws on Parade married two of my great passions- animal rescue and the Saints.” “Street Dog” commanded the intersection of Napoleon Avenue and Tchoupitoulas Street, vibrant multi-colored drips adorning his body. He is the brainchild of Rex Dingler, a street artist who led an early life of varied careers and now has made the “integrating of art work into public life” the object of his seemingly endless creative energy.
“I Love America,” the World War II Museum’s red, white, and blue bead dog, was created by John Lamouranne who describes himself as the “Egg Man.” In the late 1970s, he began creating figures made from egg shells and became popular enough to earn spots on national television shows. John left egg art for many years and worked full-time painting Mardi Gras floats and props. After Hurricane Katrina forced him to leave New Orleans for West Virginia, he returned to egg art as a way to say thank you to the people who helped him during those tough times. An appearance on The Martha Stewart Show revitalized John’s egg art and today he creates a selection of hundreds — Elvis, the Three Stooges, Star Wars, the Beatles, Alice in Wonderland, current political figures. Some of the Egg Man’s imaginative work is offered in bobblehead form.
“Hugo the Hornet” and “New Orleans Saints Dog” represent the city’s professional basketball and football teams.
The menagerie of bead dogs also includes a Voodoo Dog, “38 Special,” complete with scarlet body, skull face, and pin-piercings, “One Lucky Dog” who rides on a rolling hot dog cart, “Big Easy Beagle,” “Snoball,” “Diva Dalmatian,” and “Hallie Hound Dog.” Next week twenty to twenty-five of the bead dogs will be auctioned and SPCA Communications Director Jennifer Abbrecht summed up the project with her straightforward, exuberant words, “It’s been wildly successful!” Public art project — cows in Chicago, mules in Walker County, bead dogs in New Orleans — emerge as distinctive and as exceptional as the towns and cities which host them. Gently and easily, these projects add a novel dimension to our communities as they joyfully define who we are and what we believe with infinite energy, whimsy, and thoughtfulness.
Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 205-387-2890.