Kathleen McCarron of Mobile has been an artist "pretty much my whole life," she said. "I've always loved art; I've done pen-and-ink drawings. faux painted antique furniture, did water colors and acrylics."
But McCarron, a native Mobilian who graduated from McGill Toolen High School and holds a degree in gerontology from the University of South Alabama, has another medium for her art--she uses Mardi Gras beads to create such images as Joe Cain, New Orleans street cars and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
McCarron explained how she came to adopt the new technique: "One day in 2009, I was in a book store browsing. I came upon this illustrated book on Our Lady of Guadalupe. While I was thumbing through the very colorful folk art images, I had a light bulb moment. It just came to me that I could do something similar to what I was viewing, (but) with Mardi Gras beads. I reflected on it, how I would do it, and just did it!" Her first piece was of Our Lady of Guadalupe; she sold it within a week.
That all sounds simple, but there's a lot going on between inspiration and completion.
McCarron begins with a piece of oak wood cabinet facing; it's smooth and lightweight. She draws a picture of her subject and paints it with acrylic paints. When it's dry, the beading process begins. Using the beads she's cut one by one from all those Mardi Gras necklaces she's collected, she painstakingly glues them to the corresponding colors. "Cutting the beads takes a lot of time. So does gluing, but I love the outcome," the artist said.
Her largest piece is Joe Cain. It's 3' X 4' and took a month to complete. Most of her pieces take 25-70 hours of work, she said. And though she doesn't count the number of beads she uses, she has estimated that each piece takes thousands. A finishing touch is that all her works are framed, ready for display.
McCarron has exhibited her works in shows, but really prefers to display her bead art in galleries. She's had her work at the Cathedral Square Gallery for more than a year now, and has three pieces of bead art the Mobile Museum of Art in its current Mardi Gras exhibit.
"During this past Mardi Gras, I was commissioned to do a bead piece that is now on permanent display at the Mobile Carnival Museum. I'm very proud to have my work on permanent display there," McCarron said.