A colorful painting of a skull decorates the front door of the building at 161 Essex Street. It has caught the eye of many wandering pedestrians, but even more notable than the painting itself is the history behind the building. For years, it has served as the studio and storefront headquarters for Clayton Patterson, an artist and long-term resident of the Lower East Side, who has spent years documenting the transforming nature of the neighborhood through his photographs.

While he resides in the building, the ground floor is reserved for his gallery, the Clayton Outlaw Art Museum, which has been closed to the public for 10 years. On November 14th, however, the gallery officially reopened its doors, kicking off its relaunch with a new exhibit that celebrated the revival of “Clayton Caps,” a series of 5-panel, embroidered hats invented by Patterson and wife Elsa Rensaa in 1986.

clayton-patterson-clayton-caps-lower-east-side-nyc-untapped-cities2Image via Clayton Patterson

The long-awaited revival is the result of a collaboration between Patterson and rock band DAMEHT, who are both focused on keeping the creative nature of the Lower East Side alive. Alongside DAMEHT’s reissued collection of Clayton Caps (including an updated version of Patterson’s iconic Taxi Cab design), the gallery is also presenting original books, prints and patches.

clayton-patterson-clayton-caps-lower-east-side-nyc-untapped-cities3Image via Clayton Patterson

Since 1986, the museum has showcased work from artists outside of the mainstream, including Dash Snow, tattoo artist Spider Webb, and Jim Power, among others. In preserving the history and culture of the Lower East Side, Patterson and Rensaa have worked together to build a collection of photographs, videos, and unique ephemera that focus on controversial topics like drugs, tattoos, riots, and politics.

As part of the new exhibit, artwork from their extensive archive is currently displayed alongside the caps, featuring items like a studded-denim jacket once worn by a gang member, and a book of portraits taken by Patterson over a 15-year period by the front door of his gallery.

Image via Clayton Patterson

According to Patterson’s website, the relaunch marks the “first day of a long term plan to keep the gallery and storefront open to the public as a resource to learn about the neighborhood, Patterson and [wife Elsa] Rensaa’s artwork, and a glimpse into a community that continues to work together amidst the continuing changes that surround this historical building and it’s contents.”

The caps are also available for purchase through

Next, check out the History of NYC Streets: Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side.