Shoppers who have made their lists and checked it more than twice and still haven’t found that something nice should consider getting creative — or at least getting to a museum.
Regional museums — with both exhibitions and gift shops — can make holiday shopping a bit more merry and bright. And with museum shop proceeds supporting museum programming, the practice also doubles the holiday giving.
At the Princeton University Art Museum — where “Epic Tales from India: Paintings from the San Diego Museum of Art” is one of the current exhibitions — the shop is in the high-ceilinged chamber that serves as the museum’s entrance. Turn right as soon as you enter and you’re heading for the rack of art calendars (priced at $14.95) featuring images by art lovers’ favorites: Claude Monet, Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch, Salvador Dali, Mark Rothko, and others.
Right behind them is a small book section that covers a lot of artistic territory. Some titles are from the exhibitions mounted by the museum: “New Jersey as Non-Site,” “City Lost and Found,” and “From Rothko to Rickter.” Others are books on specific artists, including American painter John Singer Sargent, light installation artist Dan Flavin, ground-breaking Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, American photographer Paul Strand, and American sculptor Eva Hesse.
Books are also part of the nearby corner area offering Princeton University-themed items. That includes “Inner Sanctum — Faculty Room at Nassau Hall” and “Princeton and the Gothic Revival, 1870-1930,” both vital to local history buffs.
But they’re just a tiny part of the offerings for those who can’t get enough Princeton orange and black — coming in the forms of fabric penguins sporting orange snow caps, kid caps with tiger ears ($29.95), and Princeton scarves. There are also the more sedate items, like Princeton artist Pamela Kogen’s stationery with a pen-and-ink rendering of Nassau Hall ($19.95 for a set of six), a baby’s onesie boasting the image of the campus’ famous black squirrel, and various guidebooks on Princeton University gargoyles and sculpture.
For that extra Princeton touch, there is Pamela Kogen-illustrated PU wrapping paper ($9.95 for two 37 by 25-inch sheets). And let’s not forget Princeton’s most famous resident, Albert Einstein. He appears on mugs, DVDs, a few biographies, and even the recent “Einstein Encyclopedia.”
A turn to the right when entering the museum would bring the visitor to a series of floor display cabinets and shelves of works by crafts made by living artisans. “The thrust of the store is artisan handmade jewelry and crafts at all prices,” says store manager Christine Hacker, with styles ranging “from the traditional to the modern.”
The majority, she says, are from around the nation, with a good representation from the region. Take for example, Nancy Troske from Lawrenceville who, Hacker says, makes rings, pendants, and earrings in the same techniques used in ancient Rome. Her works sell for $500 to $3,500. Pamela Cassidy of Morristown creates tea-towels with one-of-a-kind “paintings” on them ($16.95). Jean Schanz of Azure Willow Design in Mercerville offers mixed-media pendants ($40 each).
Also look for the Trenton-based Ana Candles, created by the late artist Frank Weeden ($28.50 for a set of two), and the Alessi teakettles and watches by the late Princeton architect and designer Michael Graves.
Items from out-of-state artisans include art tiles designed — and even framed — by Sarah and Thomas Gelsanliter of Michigan; one-of-a-kind hand-pottered Santa Mugs by Brooklyn-based Kevin Wilcoxon ($35); and hand-dyed wool caps by Tess McGuire from California.
But what connects a museumgoer to a museum the most is the souvenir-like item of being in a specific place and seeing a specific work of art. And the PUAM’s postcard collection — with images reflecting the museum’s range from Classical Rome to contemporary abstraction — brings home that idea that one of the great things about visiting the collection is being able to bring the image home.
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton campus. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Free. 609-258-3788 or artmuseum.princeton.edu.
The Morven Museum & Garden gift shop is in the former servant’s quarters building behind the Colonial-era mansion built on Stockton Street (Route 206) by Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton. While the shop also serves as the ticket booth for tours and exhibitions, like the current “Bruce Springsteen: A Photographic Journey,” shop browsing is free.
“Such adorable boxes,” says a customer to no one in particular as she examines a small porcelain trinket box fashioned like a windmill ($12). It’s one of several — including those shaped like a guitar and an American flag — in the small 19th century room with planked wood floors, fireplace, and natural light pouring through clear glass windows.
Other items appealing to what the clerk says is a regular clientele of Princeton community members who appreciate the more intimate shopping are individual ceramic teapots ($26), tea cups with tea strainer and lid ($12), decorative hand towels by New Jersey artisan Pamela Cassidy ($12.50), scarves from Lillywhite ($25 to $40), and necklaces, including offerings from the Los Angeles-based Karine Sultan ($70 and up) and the California based Pink House Handmade Jewelry ($35).
Stationery products and books are some of the best-selling items. That includes cards with images of Morven and other state locations by New Jersey photographer Richard Speedy, who mounted a photographic exhibition of the Pine Banners at Morven. Books too share the same subject: “Morven: Memory, Myth & Reality” by Princeton historians Constance Greiff and Wanda Gunning, the Morven publications “Portrait of Place” and “Hail Specimen of Female Art,” and state-related books such as, “Life of Richard Hughes” (one of the governors who lived at Morven), “Wildflowers of the Pine Barrens, and “Dishing Up New Jersey — 150 Recipes from the Garden State.” And to complement the current show look for Springsteen biography “Born to Run,” along with a Springsteen calendar and CD.
Morven Museum and Garden, 55 Stockton Street, Princeton. Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 609-924-8144 or www.morven.org.
The internationally known Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton is open all year and features exhibitions in and outdoors. That includes the current exhibition of the work by nationally known artist and former Princeton resident Elyn Zimmerman.
The gift shop is located in the Welcome Center, a short walk from the drive-up ticket booth. One piece of good news is that you don’t need a ticket to enter the center and visit the glass-enclosed shop. Another piece is that manager Victoria Bell — former manager of the Old Barracks shop in Trenton — is mixing things up with merchandise ranging from the art to artsy to fun.
The artistic is reflected by the Local Artist Spotlight sections. Egg Harbor-based painter Andrea John has Impressionist-style painted cocktail and wine glasses ($24.95); “very popular” says Bell. Kat Lee, a Tyler School-trained artists married to GFS preparator Kyle Psulkowski, has a collection of modern-like black and white mugs and saucers ($25 to $300). Hunglin Jyi of Belle Mead offers handmade vintage-style leather journals ($30).
There are also colorful scarves ($55), men’s ties ($45), and mugs ($18) created by artists of all types working in the Art Access Program at the Matheny Medical and Educational Center in Far Hills, and the Philadelphia-based Old Blood Studio’s brisk-selling earring collection ($30 to $40) — all products that Bell calls “art that she can wear.”
Also available are artist and GFS founder Seward Johnson’s combination of hand-signed prints and book, “Seward Johnson: A Life in Public Art” ($250), miniature replicas of his large-scale French-impressionist-themed sculptures found throughout the grounds, and exhibition-related books, cards, and even clothing.
Artsy French Impressionist-themed gifts or souvenirs include sets of mugs, individual teapots and saucers, note cards, and the popular jigsaw puzzles — including Van Gogh’s famous bedroom. And for some inexpensive fun (under $20), check out heat transforming mugs and watch Van Gogh lose an ear (a reference to the artist’s own severed appendage) and a clothed group of people become famous nudes. Or you can get crafty with a do-it-yourself sock puppet kit.
Grounds For Sculpture, Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. www.groundsforsculpture.org.
The New Jersey State Museum on West State Street — a few doors down from the Statehouse — has recently opened a new wing featuring New Jersey fossils, has a show on classic toys made in New Jersey, and is featuring a retrospective of New Jersey artist David Ambrose. So it is no surprise the gift shop on the building’s second floor also has a New Jersey accent, with gifts ranging from jewelry to fine crafts to state fossil T-shirts.
A walk along the cases against the window wall starts with the shimmering and light sterling silver and glass earrings and necklaces created by the Millstone Township-based Ocean Sea Glass Creations ($40). There are also handsome fused glass necklaces created by Vibrant Fusions, an enterprise born in a Hamilton Township Life Skills class where students with multiple disabilities design and create art to support class projects ($12).
The Newark-based Glassroots — designed to “transform lives, especially of underserved youth, by fostering life-long learning and creative self-expression through glass-making” — is also offering a variety of attractive and, at $12, affordable earrings. And “Trenton Glory” is the name of the botanical print fabric collection created by the self-taught Princeton-area artist Kelly Kouzmina. Her colorful silk scarves sell for $65 while the intricate felt works are $95. Also on hand are works by Recklesstown Potters from Chesterfield and products by Sun River Arts in Lawrence.
While fine crafts are fine, there are also some fun products further down the wall. Clerk Elizabeth Berkowitz is happy to show off the New Jersey tumbler glasses decorated with a 1950s-era design of the Garden State and key locales — including Trenton and Princeton ($12 each). Matching tea-towels and aprons are also available.
Other New Jersey favorites are tree ornaments featuring the state insect (the honey bee) and bird (eastern gold finch), a New Jersey key hook that features state highlights, and a variety of products bearing the image of the New Jersey Statehouse — mugs, light catchers, and even a shawl, with each being more attractive than it sounds.
Elsewhere look for books featuring New Jersey artists, including two on nationally known Trenton artist Mel Leipzig, another on famed New Jersey-born artist Jacob Lawrence, an Encyclopedia of New Jersey, and biographies of Jersey guys Joseph Bonaparte (former king of Spain and brother to Napoleon) and Bruce Springsteen. Note cards with images from the museum’s fine and decorative arts collection and even some prints and artworks are also available.
And if none of the above are of interest, then look for the dinosaur shirts, posters featuring the state dinosaur, bags of plastic soldiers, and those vinegar and baking soda science kits that promise to create a mess.
New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, Tuesday through Sundays, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., suggested admission requested for exhibitions, tell them you’re going to the shop. 609-292-6464 or www.nj.gov/state/museum.
At the nearby Old Barracks Museum the focus is on the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Trenton, and George Washington’s surprise attack on the Hessian Soldiers housed in the very same barracks.
If the large room of the shop, known as the Quartermasters Store, seems like something from the past, that’s because it is. It was built in 1758 to house British soldiers. And if that doesn’t get one in the mood for history, the book section — with titles such as “1776” by David McCullough — will. The recordings of fife and drum events held in the barracks courtyard also bring history to the present.
While there are fun items — tri-cornered hats, rifle pens, and finger puppets of George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Betsy Ross, New Jersey-themed magnets, and drinking cups that glow — serious collectors can linger over miniature hand painted Hessian soldiers (a set of three for $75) or Philadelphia-born artist Kara Bettie Speckhals’ framed hand-cut designs, evocative of the era ($30).
A chat with clerks David Niecsor and Asher Lurie brings up some visitor favorites: honey stick candy and coffee, the latter being the Colonial blend ($13 per can). They also point out the “olde-time” foods, including jars of cranberry or horseradish mustard and Old Barracks Breakfast Tea ($10). And if all else fails, there are always the Old Barracks shot glasses to salute Washington’s Trenton victory in 1776.
Old Barracks Museum, 101 Barrack Street, Trenton, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., access to shop is free. 609-396-1776 or www.barracks.org.
At the 1719 Trent House Museum — focusing on Trenton’s oldest building — there are two small gift shops. The first is in the carriage house information center. That’s where you’ll find a handcart filled with Trent House souvenirs: magnets ($4.50), bookmarks ($1.50), notebooks ($4 and $8), handheld fans ($4), and caps ($14). Here archeologist-turned-docent Shawn Carney shows off some of the historic house’s favorites: bags of English Tea ($6) and Brown Betty Teapots ($35) made with English red clay to keep the tea cozily warm.
But it’s the store in the basement of the house built in 1719 by Trenton’s namesake, William Trent, that takes visitors into the Colonial era. Here one can stock up on inexpensive pennywhistles, Jacob’s ladders, cats cradles, replica arrow heads, and goose quill pens — or just marvel at the bright striped old fashioned stick candy displayed atop of giant barrels. But it isn’t all child’s play, and Carney points out lavender scented soaps ($4.50), sachets from Carousel Farm in Bucks County ($4.40 and $9), and the Trent House note cards ($8).
1719 William Trent House Museum, 15 Market Street, Trenton. Wednesdays through Sundays, 12:30 to 4 p.m. 609-989-3027 or williamtrenthouse.org.
The Trenton City Museum in Cadwalader Park is where visitors can view the Garden State Watercolor Society’s annual juried show and exhibition of early 20th century Trenton artist William E. Pedrick. Yet just a few steps into the elegant 19th-century Ellarslie Mansion — designed by famed American architect John Notman — there’s Molly’s gift shop filling the room on the left.
Molly is the late Molly Merlino. A Trenton-born figure who studied art and was married to longtime Trenton-born State Senator Joseph Merlino, Molly was a persistent arts advocate who not only was able to help raise funds but would show up with a hammer or paint brush if need be.
Molly’s pro-Trenton spirit is reflected in the shop where she was a presence, and, as museum representative James Strobel explains, visitors can find regular museum-shop fare — such as the popular earrings handmade by Montreal’s Christophe Poly — as well as framed artwork by prominent area artists. That includes Robert Sakson ($450 and even lower), Larry Chestnut ($200), Gail Bracegirdle (a Princeton scene for $400), and others. A bin with unframed paintings enhances the selection and lowers the cost.
Also available are prints — at various prices — by well known area artists including the very active painter and sculptor Kate Graves and the beloved late Trenton artists Peggy Gummerie and Tom Malloy — the latter even has a museum gallery named for him. And for something completely different, there are several framed images by Penthouse — yes the skin magazine — publisher Bob Guccione, who was the subject of a past exhibition at the museum. The Matisse-inspired works go for $450 framed or $300 unframed.
If the art work isn’t an eyeful enough, then go to the section with Trenton-related books and publications by area authors. There’s the biography of the neighborhood, “Cadwalader Heights,” by former Trentonian Glen Modica, the mystery novel “Trenton” by area writers John Calu and David Hart, books on the Roeblings and Mercer Steamer by Princeton-based historian Clifford Zink, and even “If Picasso Had a Christmas Tree” by Bordentown artist Eric Gibson.
There are also a variety of other niche products: veiled hats for hat ladies and socks with Michelangelo’s David or Van Gogh’s Starry Night for men who need art — or a statue of a naked guy — on their ankles. And don’t overlook Ellarslie Tea Blend, created by the Trenton-based Tea For All’s Debbie Raab ($12).
Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, Cadwalader Park, Parkside and Stuyvesant avenues, Trenton, Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. Free. 609-989-1191 or www.ellarslie.org.