After nearly nine months of closures and restricted capacity admissions, Texas museums are suffering. According to the American Alliance of Museums, more than one third of the country’s museums are in danger of closing thanks to the pandemic. With the holiday shopping season upon us, we’re homing in on how to support your favorite art institutions with what some would argue is the best part of the museum to begin with—the gift shop.
Museum gift stores have always been places to find a memorable print or stylish tote bag, but this year shopping at a museum takes on a new layer of meaning. For the Texpat who won’t be able to come home for the holidays, a tree ornament from the Texas State Gift Shop. For the friend who can’t afford luxuries right now, a silk scarf inspired by a collection at the Witte Museum. For the immunocompromised culture maven who is hunkering down at home, an exhibition catalog of the Kimbell show they can’t see in person. Best of all, whether you spend thousands of dollars on an exclusive artwork or a few bucks on a pair of cartoon artist socks, your purchase goes toward helping your favorite museum.
Chris Goins, general manager of retail at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has one go-to tip for those who aren’t sure what to buy. “My advice is to ask yourself questions,” she says. “I always ask, ‘What does the person you’re shopping for gravitate towards? Is there a certain design aesthetic they ascribe to? Are they inspired by color?’ The list goes on.”
Since we can’t all get lost in the shelves at the museum gift shop this year, we asked store managers and curators to share a few favorite, crowd-pleasing gifts, and they chose art-inspired presents that range from jewelry to lunch boxes to puzzles. The list below is the tip of the holiday iceberg (or perhaps the present pile), so we suggest heading over to each shop’s site for even more gifting inspiration.
This year, SAMA was closed for an extended period for the first time since the museum opened its doors in 1981. Caitlin Brown-Clancy, the museum’s manager of retail operations, used that time to experiment with products offered in the shop—and she adds more offerings online every day. This holiday season, Nopalera’s cactus-infused beauty products are some of her favorite gift ideas. “Inspired by the beauty and richness of Mexico, these vegan soaps are handmade with plant butters and oils,” she says. For the glamorous giftee, she highlights dangly brass Zenú earrings, which were 3D-printed based on a prototype of a ninth-century earring in the museum’s collection. Lovers of wearable art might also enjoy the shop’s best-selling artist-inspired socks, one model of which is called, I kid you not, Leonardo Toe Vinci.
Even online, shopping at the Witte’s Bolner Family Museum Store still comes with a personal touch. Until the store’s e-commerce site launches in January, shoppers place orders by emailing the store directly. (“A friendly store associate will contact you to guide you the rest of the way,” says the website, which will come as a relief to anyone who’s sick of navigating Amazon.) For little ones who missed their museum field trip this year, chief business officer Kim Biffle recommends “Quetzy,” a plush dinosaur version of the Quetzalcoatlus northropi that hangs in the museum. The store also stocks the very 2020 gift of a T-shirt that reads “Six Feet Please.”
In true 2020 spirit, Goins helped design a series of nine face masks with prints based on artworks in the museum’s permanent collection, such as Monet’s Water Lilies and Jan van Kessel’s A Study of Butterflies, Moths, Spiders, and Insects (which, Goins points out, will appear to crawl out of the mask wearer’s mouth). This season’s must-have item, she says, is a tote bag in honor of the newly remodeled MFAH. “I particularly loved Josef Albers’s Homage to the Square so much that I wanted to use the image on a tote bag,” she says. “It has our tagline, ‘Get modern at MFAH,’ and on the reverse side is this beautiful yellow and orange-brown square. It’s been quite a hot item.” Until the museum’s e-commerce site is up and running in January, art lovers will have to visit the store for socially distanced shopping.
It’s no surprise that the gift collection at the Bullock is Texas-themed, with collections of Lone Star jewelry, toys in cowboy hats, and illustrated state maps. There’s even a hand-painted bluebonnet pie dish, which Carolyn Rzeppa, head of marketing at the Texas State Preservation Board, says is one of the team’s bestsellers. “Each piece of pottery from the To The Bone collection is hand-crafted by Texas artist Melody Thomas and painted with Texas bluebonnets,” she says. “The bluebonnet hand-painted ceramic pie dish is our favorite item in the collection, and we can’t wait to show it off at Christmas dinner.”
The Blanton’s shop recently downsized to a pop-up shop in the museum atrium, so manager Justin O’Connor has plenty of experience narrowing down her wares into a few favorites. For the holiday season, she suggests timely gifts such as art-themed face masks from Today Is Art Day, which feature famous prints from the likes of Van Gogh and Kandinsky. She’s also a fan of the store’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg tree ornament. “I love the idea of families decorating their trees and little children asking, ‘Who’s this?’ as they go to hang it on a bough. What a great way to remember RBG,” she says. For orders from afar, call the shop or email O’Connor directly.
Every year since 1996, the Texas Capitol gift shop has released an ornament inspired by the history and architecture of the Capitol. This year, the twenty-fifth anniversary ornament is gold-plated and designed with miniature doors that open to reveal the building’s south foyer. The shop also sells a set of the first ten years of ornaments, perfect to adorn any Texas tree. Proceeds from the twenty-fifth anniversary ornament support Texas Capitol preservation and educational programs, so this is the gift for the proudest Texan in your life.
The Kimbell Art Museum is celebrating the season with a brass Christmas tree ornament that pays homage to its artistic roots with branches made of colored pencils. Kelly Humble-Burbach, the shop’s receiving manager and buyer, also highlights the Artnwordz reusable lunch tote, a best-selling item printed with famous works from artists such as Frida Kahlo. Exhibition catalogs are available online, but for other gifts you’ll need to shop in person at the Kimbell’s three shop locations. Humble-Burbach’s team has installed plexiglass and maintains social distancing throughout the store.
The current exhibition at the Modern, Mark Bradford: End Papers, opened in early March, just before Texas began shutdowns. “It’s a beautiful exhibition and our education department has done a phenomenal job giving the public a way to experience it virtually,” says shop buyer Lorri Wright. “Another great way to do so is by reading the exhibition catalog.” For the Fort Worth museumgoer who hasn’t been able to visit in person, or the Texpat missing the art of home, Wright suggests the hardcover exhibition book. (The shop also sells postcards and T-shirts of Bradford’s abstract works.) Wright also highlights the shop’s many puzzles, a “fun family tradition and way to spend time together when it’s too cold for outside activities.”