Williams to close Mostly African Market

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2005

NATCHEZ &045; Almost two decades ago, Thelma Williams saw the previous tenant of the city-owned Angelethy House moving out and thought it would be a great place to house an African-themed market and gallery.

Now, she’s hoping someone else will have the same thought as they see her moving the Mostly African Market’s merchandise out of the same house on St. Catherine Street.

After 17 years, Williams is closing the market and turning her attention to other projects &045; and to what many would say is a well-deserved rest. As of May 28, Williams is closing the Mostly African Market.

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The market and gallery actually started as a place to house Project Southern Cross, a summer enrichment program for black youth that Williams started 18 years ago in her home.

But when she realized the building would be unused during the school year, she sought another use for the facility during those months.

From there, she said, &uot;the gallery seemed to suggest itself,&uot; she said. &uot;And I love to buy things, so that’s where the market side of it came from.&uot;

The market side is still filled with African-themed clothing, art and other items Williams has bought in Africa and such places New Orleans, Chicago, Houston and New York.

&uot;Although we sell other things, too &045; that’s what we mean by ‘mostly,’&uot; Williams said with a soft laugh.

The gallery side, over the years, has served as a showplace for the paintings, drawings, sculptures, wood carvings, photography and other works of more than 50 artists, including a dozen from Natchez itself and some from Nigeria and Martinique.

&uot;Space (for art displays) is so scarce Š that all it took was word of mouth&uot; to fill the small gallery’s walls for the frequent exhibits it has held through the years, Williams said.

The gallery has even stretched the boundaries of what most people might think of as gallery art &045; even hosting an exhibit of Native American dance clothing at one time.

So the gallery was an important source of space for artists &045; but why is such a center so needed by a community such as Natchez?

To Williams, it’s evident. &uot;Without art,&uot; she said, &uot;life is pretty bleak.&uot;

From here, Williams will turn her attention to another art &045; preserving on DVDs the videotaped speeches the &uot;elders&uot; of the community, as Williams called them, gave to Project Southern Cross youth.

&uot;That ought to take me another three or four years,&uot; she said wryly, noting that it’s her second retirement. The first, she took after teaching school for a total of 35 years.

Meanwhile, Williams continues to hope someone will start another gallery space to give black artists a forum for their work.

&uot;I certainly hope so,&uot; Williams said. &uot;That would be wonderful.&uot;