Museum gift shops throughout the Philadelphia region are a great resource for one-of-a-kind gifts this holiday shopping season. (Photo credits, clockwise from top left: R. Kennedy for GPTMC, courtesy Please Touch Museum, B. Krist for GPTMC, courtesy Franklin Institute)
Philadelphia is home to some of the most impressive and unique museums in all the world.
Let us not forget that in addition to beautiful galleries and treasure-packed collections, nearly every museum has its own gift shop full of merchandise that could end up being exactly what the hard-to-gift might genuinely get excited about this holiday season.
Whether for the seasonal shopping or to take advantage of a reason to revisit exhibits at famous institutions like the Mütter Museum, Rosenbach and PAFA, or smaller-scale galleries like Art Star, The Fabric Workshop and Museum and Clay Studio, this season is a great chance to shop Philly’s museums.
Check out our list of some of the most inspiring gift shops at museums in Philadelphia; we’ve also included a special gift pick from each.
• American Institute of Architects (AIA) Bookstore: This awesome bookstore carries an enormous variety of how-to books on every topic under the sun as well as tons of neat gadgets and creative collectors items like the bright Kidsonroof’s Archiville Pop Out City Scene constructions. Made of recycled cardboard and depicting skyscrapers, buildings and roads, these kits can all be built into ever-changing landscapes. For $34.95 each, this could make for a cheap, cool way to spend time with family and friends following the unwrapping of the gifts.
• Art Star: Located right smack in the center of Northern Liberties’ main drag, Art Star has quickly grown from what was once just a street craft fair to what is now Philly’s go-to spot for approachable, often functional handcrafted art. The cutting-edge (and often cute) works of local and national potters, illustrators, clothing makers and stationers are represented here. For the holidays, many Art Star artists contribute ornaments and trimmings too. For a holiday gift idea, look out for Illustrator Julianna Swaney of Oh My Cavalier! who designed a whimsically on-point 52-week planner exclusively for Art Star. Philadelphia’s own Fireball Printing produced the piece. $24 each.
• Barnes Foundation: A new home for the Barnes Foundation means a new gift shop of reproductions — cards, calendars, prints — of the works in Dr. Albert Barnes’ iconic art collection. The shop also focuses on handmade artisanal items such as silk scarves, ties, umbrellas, locally made jewelry and home accessories that blend with the museum’s aesthetic. Pennsylvania artist Hannah Simons designed iPhone, iPod and iPad stands of solid cherry (from sustainably harvested trees) in a variety of designs for the shop, blending traditional craft with contemporary functionality. $24 for iPhone, iPod stand; $65 for iPad stand.
• Brandywine River Museum: The Wyeth family’s artistry stars in Chester County’s Brandywine River Museum galleries and gift shop. The latter features iconic works rendered on silk scarves, T-shirts, books and notecards. Eco-friendly crafts, Pennsylvania Redware and Brandywine-carved wood are also reliably stocked. This month, the Brandywine’s famed “Critter Sale” features thousands of locally made ornaments and table-toppers that a stable of volunteers make out of natural elements. Gift idea: Andrew Wyeth’s Pennsylvania Landscape reproduced on a tote bag and matching umbrella. $35 for tote bag; $40 for umbrella.
• The Clay Studio: This vibrant Old City gallery doesn’t just host and exhibit some of the country’s most up-and-coming sculptors in clay, but it also sells much of their work at quite reasonable prices. Come holiday time, the Clay Studio’s stock triples, making it a great venue for shoppers for vases, mugs, dishes and more. The go-to gift: Philadelphia artist Rebecca Chappell’s work will appear in the holiday exhibition GIFTED (through December 30). Among her feats is an expressive terra-cotta mug painted in bright yellows and blues that contrast with the vessel’s earthy body. $40 each.
• The Fabric Workshop and Museum: Textiles and functional objects star in this working museum’s popular vending arm, known for its commissioned ornate silk scarves, bags and pillows designed by international luminaries such as Dale Chihuly, Issey Miyake, Louise Bourgeois as well as Philadelphia’s own artist Virgil Marti and architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Nick Cave’s toy scarf is in stock, as is Kiki Smith’s adorable Owl and Pussy Cat, Betty Woodman’s wacky Handbag, William Wegman C-prints of a pair of hands holding a Weimaraner puppy and endless other modern design pieces.
• The Franklin Institute: The Franklin Institute Sci-Store is a gold mine for interesting and interactive memorabilia for everything from NASA to Historic Philadelphia. For the kids, there’s an awesome selection of space toys, books and more. Create a Night Sky Projection Kit will be a hit for kids of any age, and for your full grown friends, they have a cool assortment of films, music, posters and apparel.
• James A. Michener Art Museum: Its hallways are known for their collection of Pennsylvania Impressionist art, and Bucks County’s James A. Michener Art Museum onsite gift shop champions even more regional artists. Work for sale includes unique gifts inspired by the Lenfest Collection of Pennsylvania Impressionists, locally-crafted handmade items and a great selection of books and handmade cards.
Looking for Frank Gehry furniture or eco-friendly LED Christmas lights? Continue reading for more fantastic museum gift around the region.
• Longwood Gardens: The former estate of Pierre and Alice du Pont doesn’t disappoint its garden-loving guests, who snatch up all manner of botanical books and tools, potted herbs and flowers, plus apparel, children’s books and toys, calendars and writing paper — all from Longwood’s GardenShop. Holiday time means the addition of hundreds of ornaments, the same ones that adorn the trees in the site’s Conservancy. Starring this season are stainless steel outdoor lanterns reminiscent of the ones used in Longwood’s stunning holiday display. Eco-friendly, battery-powered colored LED string lights bring the lanterns to life. $29.99-$79.99 for lanterns; $9.99-$29.99 for LED string lights.
• Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle: The gleaming retail arm of the museums built around the collections of Bucks County ceramist, historian, archaeologist, castle-builder and quirky guy Henry Mercer sells handcrafts and history. Among the finds: artisan-made sterling silver jewelry, recycled aluminum purses, beeswax candles, log building sets, Pennsylvania Redware ornaments, Chalkware Santas—and endless history and art books. Holiday gift idea from Mercer: To celebrate Fontill Castle’s centennial, Bucks County-based Byers’ Choice created one of its iconic Carolers in the likenesses of Henry Mercer and his trusty dog Rollo. $70 for Mercer; $20 for Rollo.
• Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia: Harry Potter (and medical arts) fans will go wild at this history-layered mecca of the anatomically macabre. Gifts at the Mütter pay homage to permanent exhibitions, including “Soap Lady” soap (which also comes on a rope), creepy-cool Hyrtl skull marble coasters and conjoined men cookie cutters. There are definitely plenty of serious scientific tomes to purchase here, but they also carry games like the age old favorite, Operation.
• Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Pop-Up Shop at Chestnut Hill: The esteemed organization that puts on the world’s largest indoor flower show has opened a temporary retail venue (open December 1-23) in Chestnut Hill, where they sell wreaths, garlands, bundled greens, apparel, twig candles, oak-leaf ornaments, garden accessories and, of course, tickets to the 2013 Philadelphia International Flower Show. Keep your eyes out for the vintage chic, glossy-yet-weatherworn ceramic “candle-arium” containing a soy candle. This piece gives off a seasonal fragrance (Siberian Fir or Holiday Seduction)—and can be repurposed as a plant container, come spring. $34 each.
• Stadler-Kahn: Author/illustrator/fashion collaborator/world traveler Alex Stadler calls his just-opened shelter-tinged boutique “an elevated five-and-dime.” The appellation is ironic. Not only are the items inside anything but everyday — great glassware, ceramics, new and vintage jewelry, stationery, soaps and Willie T-shirts based on Stadler’s book What Willie Wore — but the shop itself is practically below ground, located beneath Joseph Fox Bookstore. Stadler-Kahn scarves — perfect for holiday gifting — are colorful, patterned, limited edition, designed in Philadelphia, made in NYC and take their inspiration from Stadler’s own paintings. $190 each.
• Penn Museum: Shopping globally is a perk of visiting Penn Museum’s well-traveled repository of art and artifacts from centuries past. The museum’s main store offers fair-trade crafts from Africa, Latin America, Asia and beyond; its Pyramid Shop caters to kids via stuffed toys, jewelry just for them and games like Mancala and Senet. The current Mayan exhibition, which explores mysteries surrounding the ancient calendar-makers and the year 2012, instigated the shop’s line of “Party like it’s 184.108.40.206.0” merchandise (most definitely a unique gift idea). Nab T-shirts ($19.99), mug ($9.99) and, perhaps more appropriately, shot and over-sized pint glasses ($6.99 and $9.99, respectively).
• Philadelphia Museum of Art: Seven retailers lie within the city’s largest venue for art, making the Philadelphia Museum of Art a veritable treasure hunt for shoppers. There are two main general PMA gift shops that carry art-inspired textiles, fine jewelry, limited-edition prints and more. Grab some quick souvenir gifts from the balcony shop, browse through the decorative costumes and modern contemporary designs at the Perelman Store, look around the Student Shop for interesting gifts for the younger crowd and be sure to check out the rotating Special Exhibition Shop — there is such an awesome variety of merchandise here for art-enthusiasts, sure, but there’s something clever for just about anyone; i.e. salt and pepper grinders that look like pencils. If you’re feeling extra-generous, you can also consider springing for a piece of Frank Gehry furniture.
• Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Located next door to Claes Oldenburg’s new “Paint Torch” sculpture, Portfolio — the forward-thinking retail arm of the country’s oldest established art museum and school — satisfies the shopping itches of art and design connoisseurs and souvenir seekers alike. At PAFA you can find items like the paperweight version of Robert Indiana’s famed LOVE statue, Harry Alan’s marble cast (from a real pig) piggy bank, old records transformed into bowls and bags by a Germantown retailer, plus modern essentials such as sleek iPod docks and indestructible Mighty Wallets, an essential for tough guys.
• Rosenbach Museum: Fifty different Maurice Sendak titles — well beyond Where the Wild Things Are and Little Bear, and many copies signed by the author/illustrator — are just a few of the highlights at the Rittenhouse Square-area book-based museum, where Sendak’s original illustrations and manuscripts are a main attraction. Also of note: its saleable collection of James Joyce books, inspired by the Rosenbach’s original edition of Ulysses, and an impressive array of Dracula books and references. The Rosenbach has the perfect smart gift for lit lovers and also the young ones you’d like to inspire.
• Philadelphia Zoo: There are no actual animals for sale at the gift store attached to the nation’s first zoo, but there is just about every imaginable iteration of them, from the tiniest to the grandest of plush toys, tees for all sizes, snow globes galore and endless books — including popular pop-ups and their Zoovenir book, documenting the Philadelphia Zoo’s history in photos and stories. Always popular are the shop’s animal adoption kits, which feature favorite zoo animals (and include a certificate, photograph and, of course, a plush replica). Insider tip: the shop typically stays open 15 to 20 minutes later than the zoo itself.