Shopping for the perfect art or craft

  • A glass globe made by Shelburne Falls artist Josh Simpson. Courtesy photo

  • Left: Flatware from Pinch. Courtesy photo

  • Above: The process of spalting wood uses wood that is decomposing, and so creates an interesting marble pattern. This bowl from Peterman’s Boards and Bowls is made in that style. Courtesy photo

  • Handblown ornaments available at Don Muller Gallery in Northampton. Courtesy photo

Contributing Writer
Published: 12/13/2018 7:32:55 AM

Playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw once said, “You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” What daunting words for the last-minute shopper looking to give art this holiday! But if that describes you, don’t worry — the Pioneer Valley is notorious for its abundant arts and crafts scene, and local shops still have plenty of options for the art lover in your life. How to pick out something that Mr. Shaw deems so very personal? The Valley’s artists and salespeople can help you with that, too.

Local handweaver Kate Jenkins works with her husband, photographer Ben Jenkins, in Florence’s Arts and Industries Building. She posits that buying art as a gift can be approached in two ways. If its for someone you know well, chances are you can connect something about the person to the piece you’re considering. Perhaps it features the person’s favorite color or a subject they really care about. Conversely, if the gift is for someone you’re not very close to, the piece in question should be universal enough to please a general audience. It’s a tricky business, she says, but something like her husband’s photo of a hummingbird, which someone recently bought for an acquaintance, “works well because it’s universal.”

“Crafts are more approachable, though,” Jenkins says. “Scarves are something useful as opposed to art, which can be useful in a different way.” Jenkins’ scarves double as tapestries with the addition of a decorative hanger. The vibrant pieces, which you can view for purchase alongside Ben Jenkins’ photography at the Hampshire Valley YMCA through December, make good gifts for the art aficionado who fluctuates between looking at art and wearing it.

Pinch in Northampton carries a ton of art, from ceramics to clocks. “We have every price point, from two dollars to six hundred dollars, and there’s so much variety that usually someone finds something that they feel they can get for somebody,” says sales associate Marcia Gordenstein.

“Things with words make good gifts,” says Kaitlin Scutari, another Pinch sales associate. “You can personalize them to whoever you’re giving the gift to.” For the yogi in your life, consider a handmade silver necklace with a charm etched with “Namaste.” If you’re in need of a quick hostess gift, check out the hand stamped vintage tableware from Texas — each comes with a phrase easily customizable to the receiver, like “Fork Yeah,” “You’ve Been Served,” and “the Gouda Life.”

Don Muller Gallery (dmg) owner Maya Maclachlan suggests artsy gifts that make an impression not just during the holiday, but all year long. Handblown ornaments in different colors, shapes, and sizes from an artist in upstate New York are a big hit, Maclachlan says. “Customers collect them. Some of them put them on their trees, but others have them in the window throughout the year.”

Buying presents for work acquaintances can be difficult, and giving office mates art can be especially tricky. Maclachlan says that Shelburne Falls artist Josh Simpson’s glass globes, which hold vibrant glasswork scenes, make one-of-a-kind paperweights and are popular as corporate gifts.

For the social-justice minded friend in your life, dmg sells soy-based candles in three Pioneer Valley-inspired scents from Prosperity Candle in Easthampton. “They’re great because they’re local, but they also hire refugee women, so it’s for a great cause,” Maclachlan says.

Buying something for someone who cares deeply about environmental sustainability could feel counterintuitive (do they really want more stuff?), but there’s actually plenty of local gift options that fit the bill. Peterman’s Boards and Bowls, who sell their wares out of Pinch and their store in Gill, craft food-safe wooden tableware that makes good use of the area’s natural landscape, sustainably.

“We upcyle local wood,” says Peterman’s co-owner Michele Jurado. “Local tree services bring over loads of wood and we make bowls and boards out of it.” The company’s spalted bowls (oval and round) and spalted cutting boards are especially popular for their unique look. “Spalted wood is wood that is decomposing, so when you cut into it it has a lot of beautiful marbling in it.” Jurado says. “It looks a bit like olive wood. People love that.”

If you’re cost-conscious, Peterman’s offers smaller items like wooden salad tongs and cheese spreaders. Also, half of the store in Gill is stocked with what the company calls “seconds,” bowls and other items that are slightly defected (too shallow or with a hairline crack, for instance) and can’t be sold at full-price. “People love the seconds,” Michele says.

Still not sure about finding for the perfect piece for the art lover on your list? Make something yourself! Handmade cards are always a good option, say Lex Cornell and Alexis Smith of Guild Art Supply in Northampton. They’re cost-effective, too. “We even carry watercolor postcard kits, and you can just slip one into an envelope and send it off as a gift,” Cornell says.

Guild also sells bags packed with the odds and ends of handmade, screen printed paper in a mix of colors and patterns. “Put a piece of this nice paper on the front of a simple notebook and it looks handmade,” says Cornell.

For the more talented among us, a selection of delicate origami (which has been selling out at Guild this season), or a hand drawn portrait (make sure you get a white gel pen for the eyes) make memorable presents. What could be more thoughtful than something made just for you by someone you care about?

If you’re still on the lookout for the perfect gift, there’s really no better place to be than in the Pioneer Valley, where it’s not only the art that’s in full supply, but the advice you need to guide you through it, too.

And if you’re still not sure, you could always ask for a gift receipt.


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