Did you know that Sammy Davis Jr. designed his own clothing line? Ever heard of a fantasy coffin? Carla Williams and her store, Material Life (6038 St. Claude Ave., 504-330-6153; www.material.life), offer a compact but dense treasure trove of art and information.
Williams opened the store in May in a former firehouse in the Lower 9th Ward.
"After reading all of the stories about how much more slowly the Lower 9th Ward was redeveloping than the rest of the city, I decided to put my resources there, in the midst of a diverse and dedicated neighborhood, in order to help spearhead its revival," she wrote in an email.
The retailer boasts works by domestic and international artists in accessible mediums and at accessible prices: a canvas becomes a beach towel and vintage black-and-white photos become pin-back buttons made by Williams.
Williams' shop reminds customers of the breadth and diversity of art made by black artists. Williams culled her home accessories, books, apparel and vintage pieces from worldwide sources, with a focus on black artists that tell the living history of the black experience in New Orleans and abroad. The works of American artists like Kehinde Wiley rub elbows with those of South African-based Mr. Somebody & Mr. Nobody. Large-scaled canvases meet functional objects like cellphone cases.
"Buying the $50 piece allows artists to continue to work," Williams says. "Not only [is the artist] becoming more of a household name, but you're fostering such a different dialogue than just speaking to people who have a half a million dollars."