Mummies and mastodons, Winslow Homer paintings and edgy contemporary art. Our region is rich with museums and changing exhibits of art, science, culture and history.
But our museums are struggling as New York state and the nation grapple with an economic recession.
When it’s time for holiday shopping, don’t forget your local museum gift shop.
Admission to the shops is free and unlike conventional shopping there are no long lines, annoying Muzak or parking lot road rage.
Best of all, museum shops sell interesting and original gifts, some of them locally made, that will surprise everyone on your list.
Hexbugs, Mars Mud, Hi-Bounce Putty and Fiber Optic Lamps.
The Schenectady Museum is known for fun and unique science and technology-related items for children and adults.
Asked to pick “the perfect children’s gift,” Dan Beck, guest relations coordinator, selected the Walking Robot Pencil Sharpener at $6.99, because “having a walking robot that winds up by sharpening a pencil is cool!”
For an adult with a weird sense of humor, for $8.99 you can pick up GIANTMicrobes, plush toy replicas of nasty microbes, like the ebola virus, swine flu and giardia.
The museum has loads of stocking stuffers under $5, like freeze-dried ice cream, Sonic Rocks and Pluto Plasma.
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
If you’re flying during the holidays, Departure at Albany International Airport is the place to stop for locally made artwork, jewelry, textiles, pottery and stationery.
Purchases at Departure, The Shop of Capital Region Museums, benefit 70 regional museums and cultural institutions.
Kathy Greenwood, curatorial assistant in the airport’s Art & Culture Program, recommends hand-built ceramic “Story Pots” by Lydia Grey, priced at $145. The vessels “combine whimsical human and animal forms with vivid glazes,” Greenwood says.
She also suggested jewelry boxes by Ray Faiola. Made of indigenous woods, the boxes cost from $250 to $395.
For children, there are Rainbow Cow Crayons in fun shapes from $2.25 to 19.95.
Stocking stuffers include musical instrument magnets, hand-cut soaps and savory nuts and jams.
Departure is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
ALBANY INSTITUTE OF HISTORY & ART
The Institute expanded its shop, and now there are two rooms packed with books, prints, stationery, jewelry, textiles, crafts and children’s items.
“I think the perfect gift for just about anyone would be a print chosen from hundreds of images in our collection,” says manager Elizabeth Bechand. “It really is like taking a piece of the museum home.” Priced from $11.95 to $34.95, there are digital images of paintings, maps, sketches and sculpture.
Because the museum is home to two mummies, you’ll discover unusual Egyptian-inspired items, including amulets, scarabs and ushabti, ceramic replicas of figures that were entombed with the pharaohs.
AIHA is known for its selection of history books by local authors, who lecture at the museum. The current best seller is “A Place in History: Albany in the Age of Revolution 1775-1825” ($29.95), autographed by University of Albany professor Warren Roberts.
Looking for holiday decorations? Dutch ornaments, blue-and-white Delft or miniature wooden shoes are favorites.
NEW YORK STATE MUSEUM
For out-of-town friends and family who miss the Capital Region, the shop at the New York State Museum sells a $10 ornament that depicts the New York State Capitol building.
For the younger crowd, there are New York-style SillyBandz: plastic bracelets shaped like the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and other things and places.
Other gifts for children include gems, minerals and dinosaur diorama kits.
For the women on your list, the shop sells jewelry made by New York state artists.
The store is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
There’s also an online shop at www.nysm.nysed.gov, where you can buy books, CDs, toys and I (heart) NY t-shirts.
TANG TEACHING MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY
When asked to select a unique gift item, shop manager Barbara Schrade picked a trendy terrarium of free-blown recycled glass that costs $98 and comes with mini gardening tools.
“It is all the things we should remember while holiday shopping for gifts — think about the environment and buy recycled, sustainable, low carbon,” Schrade says.
For children, she suggests matchstick gardens, $2.50, with real flower seeds imbedded in the tip of each “match.” The teeny gardens can be tucked inside a card, attached to a package or stuffed in a stocking.
The shop is also known for its fine handmade jewelry, including creations by Saratoga Springs artist Nancy Miller.
There are oodles of art items, including books, games and toys, plus ultra-cool black Tang t-shirts and snow globes with a mini Tang replica inside.
The shop is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. At tangskidmore.edu, you’ll find information on their jewelry and a downloadable order form.
Every December, the Brookside shop doubles in size with the addition of a Holiday Shoppe that showcases handcrafted items by local artisans.
For man’s best friend, there are homemade dog biscuits and hand-sewn coats from $13 to $40.
“The coats are beautifully made and the biscuits are delicious. My dog has sampled them,” says Education Director Linda Gorham.
For adults and children, Gorham recommends handmade mittens made from 100% recycled wool, $25 and $28.
The year-round shop offers a wide selection of books by local authors, with titles and prices listed at www.brooksidemuseum.org
Lip balm, candles and magnets, all under $5, make good stocking stuffers.
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
THE HYDE COLLECTION
At the Hyde’s shop, the most popular items are note cards, exhibit catalogs and art books, but they also sell games, puzzles, jewelry and locally made crafts.
For a unique holiday gift, Christine Hogan-Kilburn, director of communications, recommends the Perpetual Calendar designed by Gideon Dagan of California for the Museum of Modern Art.
“It is both beautiful and functional, appeals to both men and women … and also makes a great desk accessory or home conversation piece,” says
The calendar comes in black or silver; it’s $39.95 for a large size and $29.95 for a smaller one.
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
IROQUOIS INDIAN MUSEUM
Does someone in your life collect Christmas ornaments?
Tammy Tarbell-Boehning, a Native American of the Mohawk tribe, creates beaded snowflakes for the shop. They cost $4.
Other original artworks, like carved stone sculpture and pottery, range in price from $20 to $500.
“All artwork is one of a kind made by Iroquois artists,” says Museum Director Erynne Ansel-McCabe.
There are also native American books for adults and children, t-shirts, greeting cards, jewelry, music and baskets.
Stocking stuffers? Mood changing pencils, $1; mood changing cups, $4; clan animal magnets, $2.50; and beaded necklaces, $3.
The museum store is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, but you can shop online anytime at www.iroquoismuseum.org for more than 50 items, from CDs by Jimmy Wolf and Joanne Shenandoah to beaded bags and Native American posters.
ARKELL MUSEUM AT CANAJOHARIE
“We have so many wonderful art books. We also have books on history and the region,” says Diane Forsberg, deputy director and chief curator.
The shop specializes in books on American art, particularly Winslow Homer, George Inness and the American Impressionists.
For a holiday gift, Forsberg suggests “Mohawk Region Waterfall Guide: from the Capital District to Cooperstown and Syracuse: The Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys, Helderbergs, and Leather Stocking Country” by Russell Dunn for $15.95.
For the kiddies, there are puzzles inspired by books like “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Goodnight Moon.”
Stocking stuffers: $5 art magnets of Winslow Homer paintings and $5 handmade lavender sachets.
The shop is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
FENIMORE ART MUSEUM
Southwest American Indian jewelry, Navajo weavings and artist-made scarves are popular gift items at the Fenimore’s store.
But Sue deBruijn, the museum’s visitor services manager, says the best gift would probably be a $50 membership to the New York State Historical Assocation, which includes the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum.
“This would be a year-long membership with admission to two fabulous museums, including discounts in stores and restaurants, admission to special events and museum openings,” says deBruijn.
For the holidays, the shop sells ornaments, sugarplums, chocolates, jams and jellies.
For children, deBruijn suggests a Native American dream catcher with a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist for $19.90.
The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday or you can shop online at www.fenimoreartmuseum.org.