Mame Young on her Haddonfield location: “It seemed like the perfect place to show people the richness of our African American culture. I felt there was a need for it.”
When she was looking for a location for her African art gallery, Mame Young wanted a venue where her business would stand out.
She selected what might seem like an unlikely place in South Jersey – Haddonfield, a quaint, bustling, predominantly white community.
“It seemed like the perfect place to show people the richness of our African American culture,” Young said. “I felt there was a need for it.”
The LaBelle Art Gallery opened last month in a storefront on Kings Highway, the main thoroughfare in the business district.
The walls are lined with a sampling of an inventory of more than 250 pieces of colorful art, including lithographs, serigraphs, photographs, and prints, among them works by local artists.
Also for sale are masks from Ghana, home-decor items, figurines, jewelry boxes, calendars, stationery, and mugs that lend a gift-store atmosphere to one section of the gallery.
What the gallery offers “is something different from what we have,” said Remi Fortunato, the retail recruiter for Haddonfield.
“Haddonfield has long been a supporter of the arts,” Fortunato said. “I thought it would fit in well with our community.”
The borough was founded by Quakers in the late 1600s. Quakers donated land for free blacks to found nearby Free Haven, now known as Lawnside, one of the oldest historically black communities in the country.
Today, Haddonfield has about 11,000 residents. The population is 1.1 percent black.
Mayor Jeffrey Stephen Kasko was among more than 50 people who attended a grand opening and ribbon-cutting to launch the gallery. Young said she has been encouraged by the response from the community and customers who have stopped in to browse.
“It’s unique. The store looks great, and I think it’s a great addition,” Kasko said Tuesday. “I really hope they are going to do well.”
Born in Senegal, Young, 50, of Williamstown, said the gallery was a dream come true. A widow and mother of two, she said she wanted to blend her love of art with an entrepreneurial spirit.
“This is a new beginning for me,” Young said last week. “This is my passion. This is who I am.”
Young and her identical twin, Mery, came to the United States in 1987 to attend college. While studying international marketing at Baruch College in New York City, Mame started a business to help put herself through school, selling imported masks and clothing to fellow students.
She said learned her strong work ethic from her mother, Aissata, who sold clothing imported from Spain, Italy, and France at a boutique in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, to supplement her teacher’s salary to raise five daughters. Two of Mame Young’s sisters operate restaurants in New York.
Young briefly had an art gallery in Brooklyn with a sister. In 2004, she moved to South Jersey with her husband, Scott, and their young family.
Back then, she mostly operated an online gallery and a home-based business. The couple traveled to trade shows to sell art and collectibles.
After her husband died of leukemia in 2014, Young decided to pursue her dream of opening a gallery in South Jersey. Her children were older – Scott Jr., 19, a sophomore at the University of Miami, and Kayla, 8 – and she had more time to devote to the business.
She spent several months searching for a venue and eventually chose Haddonfield. She teamed up with Niara Wright, who moved her business, the House of Flair, a clothing and accessory store on Mechanic Street in Haddonfield, to share space in the back of the gallery.
“Haddonfield is a great town to be a part of,” said Wright, 22, of Mount Laurel, who also teaches adult art education in the borough. “This is a destination town.”
Most of the works on display in the 1,500-square-foot gallery depict African American life, history, and culture. They include art by well-known artists, as well as the up and coming, and range in price from $100 to $1,500 for signed and limited-edition pieces.
Young has started to expand her business to include collections by local artists from diverse backgrounds to appeal to a broader audience. She accepts artwork on consignment.
Last week, Algerian-born Chabane Djouber of Cherry Hill stopped by the gallery with four acrylics painted on canvas. He carefully arranged the Victorian-style artwork on a wall in a cluster.
“This gallery is amazing,” Djouber said. “You can feel the art.”
For more information about LaBelle Art Gallery, call 856-281-9751 or visit www.labelleartgallery.com
by Melanie Burney, Staff Writer at Philly.com