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Touch It And Take It Home: Treasures From The Museum Gift Shop

By Amy Krzanik

When you think of gift-giving, don’t overlook your local museum. Not only will you be purchasing a possibly rare or even one-of-a-kind item, but you’ll be “buying local” and supporting a cultural institution in the process. A souvenir magnet or baseball cap is well and good, but most of these shops go above and beyond everyday tourist talismans. Unique jewelry, kitchen goods and other handcrafted items; replica sculptures, lanterns and bird feeders; signed artwork and even a pair of donkey bookends are all a short trip (or a mouse click) away.

For the History Buff:
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum & Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill, Hyde Park, NY  
The serious presidential history fan will find scholarly tomes about FDR, while the more lighthearted among us will get a giggle out of the donkey bookends (there are elephant ones, too) and Eleanor Roosevelt doll. There are also plenty of slightly more serious shirts and hats, as well as some handsome mugs and drinking glasses. 

Hancock Shaker Village, Pittsfield, MA
After you’ve toured the exhibits and nuzzled the farm animals, stop by the store and treat yourself to some jam, a bit of honey and some tea to swirl it into, a basket-making kit for the crafty, pewter kitchen accessories and herbs and spices for the culinary-minded, and the prerequisite famous oval boxes.

Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, Adams, MA  
Tucked away on a quaint and unassuming corner in the small town of Adams, is the birthplace of America’s most outspoken suffragette. The museum’s gift shop is appropriately female-centered, and carries hard-to-find women’s history texts and children’s book for budding feminists, as well as quilts, handbags, paintings and other art made by local women. The few non-local items the store sells are the fair trade scarves made by Cambodian women who use the proceeds to help extricate themselves from abusive relationships.

Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon, New Lebanon, NY
Formerly the site of the largest Shaker settlement in America, Mount Lebanon is now dedicated to preserving and documenting all things Shaker. It shows in the fine selection of books they offer about the Shakers, including history, fiction, design tomes perfect for the coffee table, and even cookbooks. Fans of the sect’s fine craftmanship will want to scoop up the wooden kitchen items and colorful oval boxes everyone loves.

Wilderstein, Rhinebeck, NY
To get the full experience of Wilderstein and its trove of goodies, you must visit the site in person, as only four items are for sale on its website. The gift shop strives to offer an immersive experience, highlighting Hudson Valley history of all types and even offering tea-related items that were so important to Suckley family entertaining. History and animals come together (yay!) in the shop’s Fala items, that’s FDR’s beloved Scotty pooch given to the president by Wilderstein’s last permanent resident, Daisy Suckley. Read more about Daisy’s friendship with the president in the book Closest Companion, one of the store’s most popular items.

For the Kids:
Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA
As any local will tell you, the Berkshire Museum has long been a popular day trip for schoolchildren. Dinosaurs, snakes, sea creatures you can actually touch, and rocks that glow in the dark are just some of the big draws to the downtown museum. The museum’s gift shop is equally as thrilling for kids (and adults), offering plush puppets, educational puzzles and games, and other special items based on current exhibits. 

FASNY Museum of Firefighting, Hudson, NY
Based on its “Super Saturdays” family-friendly programming, annual Dalmatian Day and Arts on Fire! Summer activities for kids, you’d be correct in assuming that children’s items make up a large part of The FASNY Museum of Firefighting’s gift shop. Little ones will enjoy firefighting themed play sets and puzzles, plush dalmatians and other animals, dress-up outfits and even themed cookie cutters perfect for making birthday party treats.

MoCA’s Retail Manager, Phyllis Criddle, with the dresses she created.

For Art Appreciators:
MASS MoCA, North Adams & Williamstown, MA
Art books, children’s toys to inspire creativity, cool jewelry, and tons of great gift items for any occasion are hallmarks of the museum’s two stores. Hardware, the on-site shop, leans toward books that further explore its exhibits, and it has a great kids’ section. MASS MoCA by Design, located on Spring Street in Williamstown, carries even more of the original store’s hip gifts, including groovy gadgets, fun socks, and items from local brand Blue Q. 

Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA
From a copy of the Constitution that belonged to one of George Washington’s friends, to a congealed sea of rainbow-colored latex, you never know what WCMA will have on view to tickle your fancy. The first-floor store also brings the goods, offering exhibit tie-ins, as well as original gifts like funky jewelry, watches, ties, and unique items for the home or office.

Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA
Take home your own Rockwell—at any price point—with mugs and playing cards, framed and ready-to-hang giclee prints, and larger limited edition prints once owned (and signed) by the artist himself that are worth thousands of dollars.

Eric Sloane Museum, Kent, CT
The shop features a wide selection of books, gift items, and other merchandise for adults and children, including prints that are signed and numbered by the artist himself. No one would blame you if you decided to purchase a print created in each season of the year (it’s difficult to choose to just one, plus there’s a discount if you order all four). Covered bridge or forest scene? Pennsylvania or Taos, New Mexico? Get one of each.

Items from the Clark’s new museum store opening July 4.

The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA
The Clark takes its art books seriously, and when the museum reopens on July 4, it will feature not one, but two bookstores – one in the Visitor Center and one in the Manton Research Center. The all-new gift shop will feature a carefully curated selection of contemporary Japanese design objects perfect for gift giving, though based on the sneak peek on the website, you’ll probably end up keeping them for yourself.

Chesterwood, Stockbridge, MA
It’s not just anywhere that you can find a mini reproduction of sculptor Daniel Chester French’s Seated Lincoln, but they’ll gladly sell you one at his former Berkshires cottage and studio. Perhaps the beautiful Andromeda is more to your liking—you have a handful of reproductions to choose from—just don’t forget to pick up a book for more information on the real-life work you just bought.

Handmade, hand-painted bowls from Istanbul, offered in Olana’s gift shop. Photo by Melanie Hasbrook.

Olana, Hudson, NY
Friar’s lanterns, posters, toys and even a jigsaw puzzle of Church’s Niagara: this museum store offers a wide array of new and vintage items relating to Frederic Church, his art, and his family, along with items celebrating the Hudson River School and 19th century art, architecture, decorative arts and landscape design. New this season: An amazing selection of gifts from India to coincide with the site’s All The Raj exhibit.


For Literature Lovers:
Edith Wharton’s The Mount, Lenox, MA
The gift shop features Wharton’s works, naturally, but also carries books about the author, including ones celebrating her interior and garden design aesthetic/skills, and even DVDs of her works that have been made into popular films.

Edna St. Vincent Millay Society at Steepletop, Austerlitz, NY
This rural outpost was the famous poet’s home for 25 years, and the gardens still grow from the seeds she planted. Now you can have them, too. Stop by the brand-new gift shop in Tamarack Hollow to purchase seeds to grow your own herb garden, snag a bluebird house and a replica of Millay’s own bird feeders, and you’re ready to recreate a cozy garden in which to read. Collectors will also want to check out first-issue stamps featuring the poet, CDs of her poetry set to music, and the new t-shirt design inspired by Millay’s signature.

Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, Pittsfield, MA
Of course they carry all of Melville’s books and biographies of the author, but did you know that Arrowhead’s gift shop is also your go-to store for books on the history of whaling? For local history books AND work by local authors? For cuddly plush toy whales? Well, now you do, so get down there because these items aren’t available online.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 06/16/14 at 06:46 PM • Permalink