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8 Gift Ideas From Museum Shops Across The Country


With the ritualistic shopping of Black Friday safely past, now is the time to take a less-frenzied approach to gift selection for loved ones. While Amazon provides convenience and the mall, superstores, and specialty shops offer a plethora of other options, online museum gift catalogs offer the hidden pearls of the season. Here are some ideas.

1. Cards, Stationary, Journals, and Address Books

Most museums, and especially art museums, offer an array of quality paper products. From note cards and stationary to journals, calendars, and address books, you can find inexpensive yet special gifts appropriate for nearly everyone on your list.

From floral covers replicating the great impressionists’ works to simple and austere embossing, such as these stately designs from the Art Institute of Chicago, these classic choices will please.

2. Jewelry

The jewelry selections in museum gift shops provide a unique option for the women on your list. Often the items available connect to the museums’ collections, so you will find choices not generally available from other sources.

For instance, the Chicago Field Museum of natural history, which boasts extensive anthropological collections and cultural artifacts, offers several native American pieces, as well as jewelry crafted for its “rocks and gems” exhibition. The Met, which visually boasts the most complete museum-shop collection, includes some fabulous art-inspired choices too.

3. Special Exhibits

With special exhibits come special gift options. For instance, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is currently running an exhibit on Winnie the Pooh. Before my fellow Disney deniers pooh-pooh this suggestion, realize that this exhibition focuses on A.A. Milne’s timeless stories and the classic illustrations by E.H. Shepard.

Fall in love again with the beautiful cadence of Milne’s tales and share that joy with the children or grandchildren in your life while they cuddle up with the stuffed crew of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger fashioned after Shepard’s traditional vision. For the elder lover of Milne’s stories who can’t make the trip to Boston, treat him or her to the museum-published book that documents the exhibit.

While you’ll obviously be able to find Winnie the Pooh items elsewhere, museums often commission special products to complement their exhibits, making it easier to find the perfect gift—and sometimes ones not otherwise available.

4. Prints

Museum prints are trickier because artwork is tricky. But for the close family member or friend, a print from a museum gift shop is a lovely present. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, for instance, offers replicas of the original sketches by Shepard. Then there was Eastman Johnson’s “The Old Stagecoach,” which lit up the Christmas of the young daughter of close friends one year when I discovered her favorite print at the Milwaukee Art Museum’s store.

So, if you know a favorite artist or painting, consider searching the gift shop online catalogue at the museum that owns the collection.

5. Christmas Ornaments

Many museums also commission unique Christmas ornaments to complement their collections, such as this Rosa Parks Bus Ornament offered by The Henry Ford Museum, where the original bus reposes in Dearborn, Michigan. Some offerings represent a work of art in their own right, as seen with this hand-painted ornament by Patricia Breen that serves as a tribute to Claude Monet’s “Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877.” It is available at the Art Institute of Chicago.

6. Accessories

Holiday shoppers will also find a huge array of unique accessories at museum shops. From elegant scarves mirroring museum exhibits to kitschy and cute umbrellas, socks, and totes, you can find a substantial gift to wrap for under the tree, or a stocking stuffer to add to the Christmas cache.

7. Housewares

Handmade housewares that serve more than food and drink provide another great option, and museum selections on this front are unmatched by Amazon’s mass marketing. For instance, the Midwestern Quart Pitcher is a replica of early 19th-century bottlewares and, as a handcrafted work of the artisans at the Greenfield Village museum, it is not available elsewhere.

Museum-sourced vases and bowls are similarly unique and offer both function and beauty not easily found, even in specialty shops. Consider, for instance the Met’s Japanese Wave Pattern Bowl.

8. Special Interests

Beyond the well-known museums, for those special people with specific interests—World War II, Elvis, the Revolutionary War—make a virtual visit to smaller, focused venues such as the National World War II Museum, Graceland, or Colonial Willamsburg. These specialty museums may not offer free two-day shipping, but the thoughtfulness of the present will be worth the extra effort.