Artists find stories buried in the pieces of old New Orleans homes

Published: May. 18, 2018 at 3:50 PM CDT|Updated: May. 18, 2018 at 11:06 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - At The Green Project, everything is a work in progress, just like the city that feeds the warehouse of donated materials. Inside there are myriad doors, fixtures, windows and several other recycled building materials available at a deep discount.

"Customers will tell me that one of the things they value most about the Green Project is digging for their materials," said store manager Jordan Battiste.

Battiste said sometimes people are looking for materials to renovate their home, but more and more he's seeing artists collecting recycled pieces to create something new.

"I love wood so much better than canvas," said Crystal Obeidzinski, an artist who paints on old doors she finds at the Green Project. "You look at these doors, this city - we just turned 300. Some of these doors used to be a hundred years old. I don't know what happened before that, so each one is different and tells a different story. So when you get it, you're adding to its story instead of starting from scratch."

Wayne Manns has used recycled furniture, windows, fireplace mantels or whatever else he can find to frame his one-of-kind artwork.

"Most artists will frame their work afterwards. I start with the frame first," Manns said. "I try to tell stories with my painting, stories about black folk who were just ordinary, extraordinary people who go about their living and go about their life."

Manns finds the old pieces and weaves them together to create works of art that spin a yarn usually made from wood.

"[I'm] narrating a story without using words," Manns said. "It's using images, symbols and things I rescued from the Green Project or somewhere in Europe."

"I see them take something that's not in the best condition, that looks run down and torn down, and they transform it into this beautiful piece of work, this new life," Battiste said.

It's a new life that often starts at the Green Project, which is the only place that recycles paint in the Gulf South, creating vibrant colors primed for the artist's palette.

"I paint on doors. Why not use house paint? It's more affordable and you have a variety of colors," Obeidzinski said.

Even outside the paint, Manns said the work is truly important to the story of New Orleans. It's why he searches for those pieces that capture the heart of the city and its people, especially during its most trying moments.

"The properties that they were protecting and they were living in and they were guarding some of them, they didn't leave. They were ravaged by the storm, the winds, and maybe storms that predated Katrina, so finding that stuff and me giving it another life is very important to me," Manns said.

It tells a story that is quintessentially New Orleans, if not only for the imagery, but for the canvas itself. It just takes a little searching and some instinct to sniff out that perfect piece rooted in the past.

"I go about hunting for things, looking for things to unearth or find and rescue and bring back to life and give a new life," Manns said.

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