Holiday Gift Guide, Part 4: Gift Shop Finds

Posted in Art Market by Editor on December 8, 2011

By Courtney Barnes

Certain scents and sights instantly remind me of my grandparents and the holidays: bourbon mingling with chocolate; a tin of Virginia peanuts; and brass trivets and Duke of Gloucester Fifer ornaments from a Colonial Williamsburg gift shop. In terms of style, the iconic trivets are certainly versatile and very eye-appealing, but other historically connected gift options abound. More than ever, museums and historic foundations are going beyond the tote bags, mugs, and ubiquitous replicas by expanding their gift shop offerings to include locally crafted wares that speak to their roots.

Take, for example, some of the glass sold at Monticello. There are small cobalt blue vials ($18 each) based on Jefferson-era medicinal bottles and currently handmade in Virginia at the
Jamestown Glasshouse, as well as sculptural double-lipped water
pitchers made by West Virginia artisans ($55).

At first mention, a magnolia paperweight might sound like the ultimate tourist purchase, but South Carolina’s Drayton Hall (the oldest surviving example of Georgian Palladian architecture in the U.S. and an important repository of African American heritage) offers an object with an interesting backstory: handcrafted by students from the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston—they visit Drayton to perfect their own craft through hands-on interaction with rare examples of intact eighteenth-century craftsmanship—the paperweight is modeled after a detail of the plaster ceiling in the house’s great hall ($20).

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In the UK, contemporary ceramicist Ken Eastman has been working in collaboration with Royal Crown Derby Porcelain Company and adapting pattern manuscripts from the Derby factory archives to decorate new forms of bone china. The pieces impressed the V&A so much that the Museum added select items to its permanent collection and sells the wares in its shop. Limited but gorgeous V&A options are available online; a wider array can be found at Derby online.

For the budding fashion student—maybe a teen intrigued with the craftsmanship of Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress—there is the V&A’s Fashion in Detail series. One example, Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Fashion in Detail, explores minute details that are not always visible to museum visitors: decorative
seams, refined stitching, slashing, stamping, and corseting.

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And finally something for the renovation junkie: Mount Vernon’s large scale paint fan deck, a collaboration between the Estate and Fine Paints of Europe. At $50, it’s a portable little luxury. The cost is refundable with future paint purchase. Although the name leads to some confusion, Fine Paints of Europe is a privately owned American company specializing in Dutch paint.

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Courtney Barnes writes the blog Style Court, which has been praised by editors at various national publications including Time, Elle Decor, Domino, Lonny, and The Washington Post. With a B.A. in art history and a Master’s in education, Courtney provides smart, stimulating coverage of the decorative arts, textiles, books, art exhibitions, and interior design.

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