The Mardi Gras Bead Dog: A New Icon for an Age-Old Festival

Bead Buzz: Originally published in April/May 2017 Beadwork issue

Beads, whether they are flying through the air or embroidered onto an Indian headdress, have been a staple of New Orleans Mardi Gras since the 1890s. Originally made with Czech and Japanese glass, “throw” beads became ubiquitous when parade revelers discovered a cheaper, more lightweight plastic alternative. After a parade, the streets would be filled with plastic bead strands, and children soon learned that they could twist them, like a balloon animal, into small shapes. Thus the Mardi Gras bead dog was born.

The Mardi Gras Bead Dog: A New Icon for an Age-Old Festival

In recent years, the Mardi Gras bead dog has inspired sculptors, jewelry artists, and even a children’s book. The bead dog reigned in 2012 when these colorful tokens of Mardi Gras spirit adorned the streets of New Orleans as part of a public art project called “Paws on Parade,” put on by the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many of the sculptures remain, and a local bakery called Haydel’s continues the tradition by commissioning a New Orleans artist to create a new bead dog every year, raffling it off and donating the proceeds to a local charity. Jewelry artists have gotten in on the fun as well, making cute wearable dogs out of beads, crystals, and pearls.

It isn’t surprising that beads, with all their color and personality, would become emblematic of such a grand party, and that the bead dog, with its playful and spontaneous origin, would emerge as the new Mardi Gras icon.

Photo credits: Bead Dog, by Artist Nurhan Gokturk, and The New Orleans Saints Bead Dog; COURTESY OF THE LOUISIANA SPCA.

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