It’s a simple fact, obvious to anybody who’s ever so much as wandered through the Met Museum Store looking at ornaments and reproduction Roman earrings, that there’s nothing better than a really excellent museum gift shop. A good one is full of delightfully creative little oddities, pegged to whatever interest brought you there in the first place. A pencil sharpener shaped like a movie camera at the Museum of the Moving Image! A happy little heart-shaped plush from the Mutter Museum! (The organ, not the Valentine’s Day shape.)
Unfortunately, it’s a tough time to be running a museum, which basically depends upon large numbers of people wandering around indoors together. And so it’s a particularly good year to give all your friends and family stuff from museum gift shops that are open online. Why not grab something fun for yourself, while you’re at it?
For Your #Resistance Mom Who Really Loves Philadelphia Right Now
These Philadelphia-inspired Tarot cards from the Museum of Art are extremely cool and unique. The Phantic is the Fool and Gritty is the Devil. The set even includes the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Grace Kelly.
For Your Friend Longing for Upstate New York
Mills Mansion, located in Staatsburgh, New York, isn’t quite a museum in the traditional sense. Built in 1832 for the Mills family, it is a stunning piece of architecture, plopped in the verdant hills of the Hudson Valley, and was, for a brief moment in time, the best place to go sledding. Now, thanks to the pandemic, it is (presumably) in need of support! If I were allowed to wander the gloomy interiors of Mills Mansion, I would go straight to the gift shop and purchase two tins of this tea.
For Your Pal That Loves The Crown
The Windsors love their gin. The queen has her own brew made from plants at Buckingham Palace and her mother famously enjoyed a nip of gin every night. In honor of the Windsors deep commitment to gin, get your Crown-obsessed friend this adorable gin pendant necklace from the Museum of London, perhaps the most underrated museum in the city. It’s the perfect opportunity to announce her dedication to longevity, royalty, and absolute drunkness.
For The Leftist in Your Life
This holiday season, consider getting them a “Radical History Bundle” from Brooklyn’s Interference Archive. The small, accessible physical archive includes texts, art, and ephemera chronicling social protests, from newspapers for Chicago’s “Rising Up Angry” movement to Occupy Wall Street. For $75 you can support the archive and get a tote bag, a copy of the archive’s book on the history of student organizing, their book on the history of urban homesteading in New York City, and a reproduction of documents chronicling the creation of the Free University of New York. And you can sleep at night knowing you’ve supported a small archive AND likely radicalized a friend into organizing a rent strike!
For Your Friend Who Was Forever Changed by Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”
I love this bright pink Guerrilla Girls clutch taken from their 1988 poster, Advantages of Being a Woman Artist. I bought one for myself at the Perez Art Museum Miami (Truly one of the most beautiful art museums in America. They have swings that overlook Biscayne Bay!) and promptly bought five more for friends. Love for my accessories to brightly remind me that more than 30 years later, not much has changed.
For Your Friend with the Greenest Thumb
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, an imposing red building in New Orleans’ Warehouse District, is just phenomenal; I went a few years back for a wonderfully curated Basquiat exhibit that centered the way the iconic New York artist explored and related to the South, and I left with a much deeper, richer understanding of an artist about whom I thought I knew everything there was to know. Their shop, too, is curated in a fashion that explores the specific tenor of Southern artists and highlights contemporary artisans’ best work—this beautiful print by photographer Trenity Thomas; ornaments using pieces by the Louisiana Creole folk artist Clementine Hunter, who lived and worked on the Melrose Plantation—built by and for free Black people—and “painted about plantation life in America prior to mechanization coming to agriculture.” I also particularly like this oversized, hand-drawn-and-printed horticulture calendar by New Orleans printmaker Kiernan Dunn, which is split up by seasons and depicts botanical illustrations of flora native to Louisiana.
For That Family Member Who Actually Sends Physical Cards in the Mail
LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a nonprofit museum and cultural platform centering the contributions of Mexican and other Latinx-Americans to Los Angeles, has been continuing its work through the pandemic via a wide variety of online channels including Zoom, streaming storytelling, histories, and happy hours with icons like Los Lobos’s Louie Perez and thee Linda Ronstadt. (That’s on Friday, December 18 if you’re wondering!) Their gift shop, LA Plaza Tienda, is equally wonderful; I kinda want everything in it, such as this iridescent edition of Loteria Millennial, this gorgeous print by the artist Judithe Hernandez, this dad-joke college t-shirt for MIT (Mexican Institute of Tacos, obviously), this exhibition catalog for the show L.A. Xicano. But as a more general gift, I love these greeting cards by Two Hermanas in the Mexican paper art style Papel Picado ($8 a set). Nothing like getting a card in the mail to break up the monotony of pandemic life.
For That Kid (or Kid at Heart) Who Absolutely Loves Trains
The New York Transit Museum is wonderful because it delivers exactly what people who love trains want: just a whole bunch of vintage subway cars, all parked permanently in a decommissioned subway stop. What could be better for little kids who love trains (a well-known genre of New York kid), as well as grown adults who also love trains? For that kid, stuck inside this winter, why not get them a wooden train set designed to look like real-deal New York subway cars? It’s also a good source of gifts for natives who’ve found themselves living elsewhere and are missing home at the holidays, as well as anybody who rushed off to the Hudson Valley that you want to lightly troll, like their collection of mugs and glassware featuring rakes on classic subway maps.