It’s about time someone exposed Houston’s museum district gift shops for what they really are: a too-well-kept shopping secret, the ultimate resources for one-of-a-kind items including the crème de la crème of Houston’s art community.
And, here’s the best part! Got a membership to a Houston museum? Members often get 10, 20, 25 percent off their purchases. And, every year for one weekend just in time for the holidays, the entire museum district discounts all purchases at any of the District gift shops. The 2013 date is not set yet, but keep your eye out. They’ll announce it soon.
Contemporary Art Museum Houston’s gift store
Two of my best girlfriends and I went on a little jaunt through the CAMH gift shop, just to see what they had available. Given that the Museum’s mission is to connect people to innovative art, one would expect that the gift shop would have some true gems. We were not disappointed.
First off, walking into the store is like walking into Willie Wonka’s garden. Items that look like everyday objects are actually “horses of a different color.” Take, for instance, the wooden bow tie (which will definitely be under the tree for my stepfather this holiday) and the paper coffee cup from a Greek restaurant sewn into a change purse. Jeanne found a bathtub mat with dance steps, which was perfect for her guest bath and Andrea—my dear neat-freak Andrea—found a little handy-dandy desk set for her purse, complete with a stapler. It was everything she needed to whip someone into shape on the spur of a moment in a tidy little red box. Alas—no manila folder labels, but perfection is unattainable…
Nearly every item in the store plays games with paradigms, pushing expectations to the cliff’s edge and quite happily pushing them all the way over.
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If you don’t find what you need at the CAMH, try one of these shops instead:
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
If you’ve not got an MFAH membership because of the exhibits, the discount at the gift shop will certainly inspire you to buy one. This shop is a virtual mother lode of “cool.” Handmade jewelry, avant garde kitchen items, children’s art toys and projects, household decorating objects, books books books and more books, art posters and cards… If it’s art related, it’s at the MFAH shop.
The Jung Center
What, you’ve never heard of the Jung Center? Really? Oh man—are you in for a surprise! This place is an oasis. Not only do they have classes in yoga, meditation, tai chi and Jungian psychology, they’ve also got original art and one heckuva cool bookstore! No, no—if you’ve not gone, drop that latte now and rush over. Freud finger puppets, pop-up books and the largest collection of books I can imagine focusing on psychology, art and spirituality. Trying to buy for that special someone who just happens to be going through a midlife crisis? The Jung Center bookstore is the place for you.
Asher Gallery, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
This is honestly one of my favorite shopping venues in Houston, but I’m a handcrafted-item junkie, so that makes all the sense in the world. The entire Center is a wonderland, from the gift shop to the galleries to the artist-in-residence offices—all of it inspires the oft-suppressed comment, “Hey! I can do that!!!” (until one actually tries and discovers, “Oh. Wow, yeah, that’s much harder than it looks…”). The gift shop is full of truly one-of-a-kind items including hand-felted hats and scarves, turned wood items, hand-cast metal jewelry (like the necklace pictured on the right), pottery and glass… Just a few minutes in their small shop can cause a hypnotic trance not unlike walking into a fine restaurant with a buffet.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
I say “thank you” to the board of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. When you all expanded the museum for the new Paleo Hall, you also afforded more space for the once-miniscule-but-still-fabulous gift shop.
Now quadrupled in size, the large gift shop offers something for everyone: games, puzzles, hand made jewelry (like the Jessica Winzelberg stone earrings pictured on the left), funky t-shirts, science tricks, pet (stuffed animal) dinos in a box.
If the big shop isn’t to your liking, however, check out the smaller shop next to the Butterfly Center! Here you’ll find items focused on the butterfly crowd, including the museum’s twice-a-year plant sale. Got a nature geek in your life? You’re in business! Look for the abundant dried and pinned riker-mounted insects all on one wall. Won’t they be surprised!
– Cecelia Ottenweller