I have been a huge fan of museum and other arts organization gift shops for years. My work has given me the opportunity to explore lots of organizations, in NY, Philadelphia, and to some extent all across the country. Some are well known - others are hidden gems. The best ones have excellent buyers that find products relevant to the exhibitions, collections or presentations of the institution, but also stock unique artisinal creations by artists, craftspeople and designers that have a sense of place or direct connection to the organization's artistic focus. I am not talking about t-shirts and other logo-emblazoned merchandise, or touristy "tchotchkes" - but sources of high-quality, interesting, beautiful products that make great gifts or personal treats.
So here is my informal survey - apologies in advance for anyone left out. I have not been everywhere, and as noted this is not a journalistic comprehensive survey, but idiosyncratic. My hope is that readers can comment and share their own ideas. Maybe over time this can grow into a useful guide - perhaps a blog or website of its own. I know the logical thing to do would be to post this at the start of "holiday" season, and perhaps I will re-post in the fall after some further refinement and "input."
Except where noted all of the gift shops I am highlighting have web presences, and the links are specifically to the website of the store. But from my experience, most museum store websites are a shadow of the store itself. Merchandise is simply too frequently changing, and sometimes too extensive, to allow the web site to encompass all the goodies. Where possible, visit in person. I also encourage exploring the many smaller gift shops that don't have web sites, but because this blog is web-based I have used the availability of a web link as a criteria for inclusion.
I am starting with my current home for the past several years, Philadelphia, which just by itself is quite an impressive collection. I also have written two other installemnts - about New York City museum/arts gift shops, followed by the rest of the country.
Philadelphia Museum of Art - PMA has an excellent gift shop (or more accurately, shops), and last year also added a "Philadelphia Produces Original Design" pop-up shop exclusively highlighting local artists. In the main building you will find the large main gift shop, a smaller Annex shop featuring more jewelry and textiles/clothing, a "balcony" shop featuring steeply discounted items, and across the street in the Perelman building is a smaller more design-oriented shop. In addition there are usually specialty shops featuring merchandise thematically linked to whatever the current major exhibition is. A current highlight in the gift shop is a large selection of vintage Russel Wright ceramic ware.
The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts - has a really lovely gift shop - "Portfolio" - which has the advantage of being very accessible just north of City hall on Broad Street, located in their newer Hamilton Building. There is also a new-ish Alumni Gallery in the original Furness building that features the work of PAFA alums that is for sale. An example of a PAFA exclusive: men's ties based on the famous Tiffany-Parish "Dream Garden" mosaic mural. Also, of note: "banner bags" made from recycled advertising banners from the Center City District, laundered and made into bags by a program of the Department of Corrections and another vocational program.
The Fabric Workshop and Museum - also has a great shop, not surprisingly drawing on their leadership as a textile-based institution. Another special strength of the shop is limited edition artist multiples created by artists-in-residence. Love this "Dash" tote bag by the artist Jun Kaneko, who has designed productions for the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and whose large-scale sculpture has been exhibited in the City Hall courtyard and elsewhere around town.
AIA - located conveniently right next store to the Fabric Workshop is the headquarters of the American Institute of Architect's Philadelphia chapter, and they have a great shop ("Bookstore + Design Center") that has a special emphasis on architecture and design. Great design-oriented toys for kids, especially little budding architects and designers. Plus they carry the Philadelphia city map tie that I love and often wear (though I got it at the gift shop of the National Building Museum in Washington DC).
Print Center - a great entry point for art collecting is the world of prints and "multiples" - art produced in a limited edition. The Print Center's print store, at the back of their gallery, is a great place to explore the world of print collecting, across a wide range of prices, including much affordable work. They also stock books and other gift items.
Clay Studio - Their shop adjoins their art gallery space in their building in the heart of Old City. A very popular First Friday destination. The gift shop includes everything from fairly pricey works of collectible ceramic art, to lower proceed mugs, plates, tiles and other great works of functional ceramic art.
Center for Art in Wood - A new addition to the great Philly arts org gift shop world, this is the new name of the Wood Turning Center, and their new home in Old City, right near the Clay Studio, is exquisite. Anyone going in thinking they will see some pedestrian wooden bowls is in for a delightful surprise. This is truly art that happens to use the medium of art, carving, lathe-work, etc. as its medium. The space includes a large gallery/museum space, and an adjoining store, similar to the Clay Studio. For anyone working in the medium of wood, the shop offers books, tools and other resources, but it also a wide array of works of art in wood, from small and modestly price, to true works of art with prices to match. the website really only scratches the surface.
The Art Shop at Moore College of Art & Design. The Art Shop is a venue for Moore alumnae and students to sell their creations to the public. Artists are current students getting their feet wet in the business of art, emerging alumnae trying to make a name for themselves in Philadelphia, and seasoned alumnae who have been working their entire careers as artists. Pictured here is a silk tunic designed and printed by Harshita Lohia ('02). You can browse our online store, but as with most of the other shops cited here, if you’re in Philadelphia, you should visit the shop (which is at Moore College of Art & Design, on 20th St and the Parkway)!
National Museum of American Jewish History - Another relatively new addition, the gift shop of NAMJH has become the premiere Judaica shop in the region, as far as I know. Need an exquisite artist designed mezuzah, seder plate or menorah? This is your place. They also carry jewelry, books, children's items, etc. (There is also a small Judaica section in PMA's gift shop.)
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology - The museum itself is too often noted, with justification, as one of Philadelphia's best kept secrets. Considered to be perhaps the second most important museum of its kind in the world, behind the British Museum, it has a gift ship that focuses on its collections of Egyptian, Classical, African, Mesoamerican, Mesoptamia, the Silk Road, and other cultures from around the world. From the current Maya show, can't resist sharing this image of a terra cotta statue of a Mayan princess, available at the shop. Hopefully the world will not come to an end this December!
The Barnes Foundation which has a relatively small but great gift shop at the Barnes on the Parkway (downstairs), and also has a great shop on its web site. Find everything from prints, posters and books, to jewelry and other objects inspired by the collection. Even some of the distinctive metalwork displayed with the art is available in reproduction at the shop. Pictured is a mug featuring a reproduction of a Barnes sketch of one of his famous "ensembles."
Institutions with gift shops of varying degrees of extensiveness but WITHOUT any real web access, include Please Touch children's museum (large, wonderful, children's toy and book resource but nothing online), Taller Puertorriqueno, African American Museum and Woodmere Art Museum. If you are into animals, the Philadelphia Zoo has a great shop - not so extensive online. So don't forget about museums whose gift shops are not yet online. As I noted in my intro, these shops are really best perused in person anyway.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that Philadelphia is also home to many art/craft shows fairs that are great opportunities to find wonderful gifts, objects for your home, art for your walls, etc. None of these resources are available online - you need to go to the shows to see and buy the work. This includes
Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show - Presented every year by the Women's Committee and Craft Show Committee of PMA to benefit the Museum, this show takes place in the fall at the Convention Center. This year it will be held November 8-12, 2012. In 2011 1,300 artists applied to be exhibited and 195 were selected. The quality is extremely high - this is truly craft that rises to the level of art.
Art Star Craft Bazaar - This is show that is organized by the Art Star art/fine craft store in Northern Liberties (which is open all year and is itself a great destination for mostly locally-produced artist-designed and made products). The next show is Saturday, May 12th & Sunday, May 13th, 11-6pm, at The Great Plaza at Penn's Landing, where 140 artists will be showing.
Art for the Cash Poor - An annual event organized by the nonprofit organization InLiquid, held at the Crane Arts Building, that makes a wide array of fine and functional art and craft available for purchase at very affordable prices. The next event takes place on June 9th and 10th, from Noon to 6. The event is block-party style, with refreshments, music, and is very family-friendly. It also uses the outdoor space at Crane as well.
Philadelphia Art Alliance - This venerable Rittenhouse Square institution has recently enhanced its focus on fine craft. Many of their shows involve work for sale, and they periodically have special shows of "wearable art" and jewelry. Unfortunately, they don't really appear to have a web-based shop. Their "Shop on the Square" benefit shop/sale unfortunately just ended (12/3-9 - keep it in mind for next year!)
For the scientifically inclined, we have The Franklin Institute, with great science-themed gifts, including a wonderful selection for children. And right nearby there is the Academy of Natural Sciences, now part of Drexel University, which also has a gift shop, though not a web component.
For you gardeners, Morris Arboretum has a nice gift shop, though it does not have web sales, and if we extend out to the region, Longwood Gardens has a very large, well-stocked gift shop, including periodic plant sales (as does Morris Arboretum) though you would not know it from the web site, which has a very limited selection. The annual Philadelphia Flower Show, of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society incorporates an extensive marketplace of vendors and gifts, some of which are linked to whatever the show's theme is that year. They do have an online giftshop so you don't have to wait until next year to do your Flower Show shopping. They also have a special "pop-up" holiday gift shop in Chestnut Hill open through 12/23!
Doing your holiday shopping from museum giftshops and local stores/fairs that feature the work of local artisans and artists is one of the best ways you can "do well by doing good" - support your local arts groups and artists AND give gifts that are truly unique and creative.