Lifestyle & Culture

Artful Presents

December 6, 2022

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Museum-shop worthy: clockwise, a lucite bud vase, a Jean-Michel Basquiat melamine plate, patterned pencils and fabric bones for Fido.

By Janet Kelly

AS YOU hectically check off your holiday shopping list—Ugg scuff slippers for your daughter-in-law, a premium-label Scotch for your stepson, hot pink Converse high-tops and Nike Air Force sneakers for the kids—we’d like to offer an alternative to the typical grind.

Big-city residents in New York, Boston, DC and Pittsburgh have ready access to a secret resource — well, maybe not-so-secret but overlooked opportunity to shop in person. You’ll likely escape the crowds, not to mention get a chance to take in an exhibit after at least a couple of years. Don’t expect to find something for everyone in these mostly small shops. But, whether you’re looking for a stocking stuffer or something more serious, you’ll score some unexpected items bound to delight those difficult-to-buy-for folks on your list. And, pssst: you can also shop virtually at all these stores.

Designed to tickle the fancy of the tiniest tyke on your list, this large (16 inches-by-16 inches) Diplodocus plush toy in organic cotton will charm its recipient as well as add character to the nursery. It’s $45 from the Carnegie Museum of Art store.

A Hanukkah celebration (the holiday begins the evening of December 18) becomes more festive with an elegant menorah (12 inches -by-12. 5 inches) topped off by pomegranate embellishments. Michael Aram’s design inspiration is a 17th-century British textile in the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s collection that depicts the Tree of Life. The menorah is $195.


Wouldn’t it be fun for a fan of  Jean-Michel Basquiat to eat off a plate with his artwork, in which he masterfully mixed graffiti, African-American historical figures and pop-culture images. A set of four will entertain friends as well. It’s made of melamine and sells for $30 at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.


Based in the Italian city of Mantua, Seletti is a homewares brand known for playful tableware and accessories that find inspiration in pop art. Tickle someone pink with Seletti’s melamine lipstick Tray that’s $46 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.

The National Building Museum (401 F Street NW) in Washington, D.C., focuses on the history and impact of architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, construction, planning and design on our lives. It also has a first-rate store, where we found the ideal gift for your favorite DIYer. The DIY Mug ($14.40) is chockablock with tips and tricks to save both time and money.

In the unlikely (ha!) event, you lose just one glove, to the rescue these Pair & a Spare Touchscreen Gloves. With three ambidextrous gloves, you won’t be left out in the cold if one goes missing. Plus, the thumb, index and middle fingertips are knit from conductive yarn so you can use your phone, tablet or any touch screen while fingers stay warm. One size fits most, and they’re available in color block combos of lilac and melon, black and gray, rust and cobalt and red and lime for $40 from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). 

For the classics lover in your life. The image on this lacquered wood tray ($105) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s shop is taken from a Roman fresco in the Neapolitan villa of P. Fannius Synistor, which was buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Reimagined by designer Ellen Van Dusen, of the brand Dusen Dusen, for MoMA, this version of the popular Subu slippers comes in three bold color-and-pattern combos with a matching dust bag of the same fabric. Think of them as a warm down jacket for your feet. They’re $75.

Give a dog a bone. In this case, it’s an organic cotton-filled one, available in five designs at New York City’s Neue Gallerie, a museum devoted to early 20th-century German and Austrian art and design. The bones are $30 each.

Think how much pleasure—mixed with frustration, perhaps—your book-loving friend and/or relative will have poring over the pieces in this puzzle. I’d Rather Be Reading is $17 at the Frick Pittsburgh.


Wrapped in design patterns from the collection of NYC’s Cooper Hewitt, this pack ($8.99) of eight standard No. 2 wooden pencils would be a cheery addition to a dull desk at home or in the office.

Delight the modernist in your posse with a lucite bud vase (three-inches-by-five-inches) in a choice of  three colors: smoke, orange or blue. Each sells for $142 at the Museum of Arts and Design.

A hand-painted candy swirl covers this notebook of blank pages. A great gift to inspire doodlers, writers or anyone with or without a creative streak. It’s $29.95 at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art.


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2 thoughts on “Artful Presents

  1. Wonderful selection! I’m told museum shops, with their unique items, are now the fastest growing retail outlets in the country. True?

    1. Janet Kelly says:

      Can’t say whether or not these stores are the fastest-growing, but according to this story in Artnet (,
      they’re becoming more popular and profitable.

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