this macabre local art shop in the neighborhood has it all
From jewelry to coffins, this boutique combines macabre and mastery of art
At a time when businesses are closing throughout the French Quarter, a macabre boutique, filled with weird art and quirks and black walls, portends a surprisingly bright and successful future.
Dark Matter Oddities and Artisan Collective have opened the doors of their window at 822 rue Chartres in the midst of a pandemic. Their timing might be odd, but that’s no surprise as all sorts of things about their business model and practices are defying what you would expect.
To begin with, the co-owners Chrystal Lea Nause and The gates of Joshua are both artists and partners, still in their thirties, who have been together for almost two decades. I sat down with Chrystal to ask her how this unholy marriage of art, romance and business came about.
âWhen Josh and I first met in 2001, he was my main competitor in juryed art shows. He started in graphic design and then focused on a double degree in metals and glass, âshe said. “My love has always been the darkroom, so I pursued a degree in photography [coupled with] a diploma in criminal justice so that I can carry out the civilian treatment of crime scenes. I added a masters course in physical and forensic anthropology that would allow me to work as a specialist in documentation, recovery and identification of human remains. This diploma took me to southern Italy, to work on an excavation of a late Roman cemetery. I remain a Certified Skeletal Analyst in the State of Illinois to this day.
While art and excavation are an unusual mix, Chrystal is far from the collective’s only scientifically minded craftsman.
Sleeping sirens and Forgotten cemetery preserve wet specimens and mummify sea creatures, as well as perform osteological treatments, Skeleton focuses on the skeletal joint, caged insects and skulls, Engraved in the embers specializes in pyrography and my my butterfly and Fairy things gently preserve insects.
The items in this store are quirky, beautiful, and sought after, but they don’t sell on their own, Chrystal explains.
“Being prolific with artwork and effective in marketing rarely matches.”
âLong before Josh and I started our brick and mortar, we did art markets,â she explained. âWe wanted our parts to sell, but we didn’t know how to do it. At first we were like, âThis is what we sell. Whether you like it or not. Take it or leave it.’ It wasn’t the best selling technique – dealing with the marketing and business side of art is really, really hard. Learning to talk about your own works of art never comes naturally. Being prolific with artwork and effective in marketing rarely matches. There are so many talented artists who have no skills to get carried away and artists who are skilled on the business side are often not prolific or do generic work.
We have the impression, when we go through the sacred doors, that the artists who run a shop are a bit like the inmates who run an asylum, but with Black matter, it’s part of the draw. Do travel shows and markets, take meticulous notes, slowly develop a large fan base across the United States, choose to work only with people they admire and appreciate, and focus on showcasing he underrepresented artists who work in a variety of mediums with distinctly unique approaches is an absolutely backward business model but it works! Not only does it work, but it also creates harmony in space and a complementary rather than competitive relationship between the collective.
“Weirdos tend to gravitate towards each other.”
âWe met all our local artists (oil painter Eric Clay Dean, illustrator Trista musco, sting the witch Curious ornaments, found objects artist Fairy things and laser engraver Saynomore Studio) at various art markets around New Orleans; our non-local artists have been met during traveling exhibitions, notably the Curiosities and Curiosities Fair. The bizarre tend to gravitate towards each other. Chrystal laughed behind her Nosferatu mask. âWe believe wholeheartedly in [our artistsâ] work, and in them as individuals. We love our Merry Band of Misfit Makers! We also only support ethical, sustainable and conscientious taxidermy work. Most of our taxidermists would belong to the “rogue taxidermy” movement, “vulture culture” (animal remains found) or use vintage mounts. We do not tolerate trophy killings. ”
âIt smells really good here; It doesn’t smell of dead animals.
My apologies, as I buried the advance by not mentioning the large goats that adorn the store until this point. The place is filled with bovines, jewelry, coffins, sculptures, candles, seashells, pins, paintings, postcards, creatures of all kinds, but as Chrystal assures us, “that smells really good here; It doesn’t smell of dead animals.
Such a long list of items can make you feel like the store is disorganized and cluttered, but on the contrary, everything is designed in a thoughtful, clever, user-friendly way. What struck me is that there are displays at all possible heights. I asked him what had led to this choice and his answer surprised me.
âWhen we structured the store, we wanted everyone to feel welcome here, including those with special mobility needs. When I was working at UES University Museum, I spent a lot of time in âDiversity and Equityâ, the department that manages accessibility and ADA training. These experiences made me more aware of the variety of access that should be considered with a physical storefront. We have a portable ramp that provides access to the walk. The aisles have a minimum width of 40 â³ and some spaces are even wider than that. You may notice a small cast iron Victorian dollhouse chair and full-size turn-of-the-century caned wheelchair in our collection. We also display items literally from floor to ceiling. This makes our store inclusive and more interesting (and interactive) for kids.
Another thing Chrystal and Josh did efficiently and smartly was the switch to online sales. They thrive Instagram, Facebook and Etsy these days. They had already been active at the sites but jumped into high gear when the pandemic struck. Their reviews are five stars because they care about their clients as they care about their artists.
I leave you with this wonderful story Chrystal told me about how they recently came into possession of their store goats:
âThe most recent taxidermy acquisition was with a couple we know very well from the Weirdos Tour Shows,â she said. âWe acquired our first pair of goats from them in Charlotte in February, with the intention of meeting the pair in Dallas next month for the next show. Then all hell broke loose, COVID happened and the world was canceled, so we tried to find a way to triangulate with them. They hand-delivered taxidermies across the southern states, so last weekend we drove five and a half hours to a gas station in the Mississippi countryside, pulled our handicapped van to ‘to their dead object trailer, rolled the goats (which were on wheels) into our vehicle and we left very quickly. We paid for them in digital currency and sausage. (The blood sausage was really a “thank you” to them who have come all the way from rural Oklahoma to meet us.) I’m sure that, for years to come, a handful of people will speak of the traumatic time they were in. stopped at Love’s gas station in Tupelo, Mississippi, and witnessed an occasional exchange of goats and sausages.