By Natalie Hope McDonald
At the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., the gift shop showcases glass pieces by artists from throughout the region and world. The museum also has a very talented team of artists at work in the Hot Shop that creates original, one-of-a-kind pieces on site, much of which is chronicled on the museum’s Instagram.
These days, some of the popular items being sold from the Hot Shop include a standout hot pink cone vase, whimsical pink pussy hat sculpture and the Reticello flask vase by B. Cobb. Each décor piece features an embossed label denoting it is made exclusively at the museum, which has enjoyed added appeal from collectors.
According to April Matson, a spokesperson for the museum, “Vases and such are probably our most popular décor items.”
Some of the vessels currently being sold at the museum gift shop include a chartreuse flat murine vase with circular designs and a limited-edited mid-century style vase, also made by the Hot Shop.
Other home décor items that sell well are inspired by nature that can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest, like a wide variety of sculpted birds, as well a glass crab, owl, owlet, jellyfish bottle and a large wave bowl.
Most of the home décor items appeal to collectors of glass art, but they have become popular gifts for both local and tourists visiting the Seattle area. They are each handmade and elegant, but quite a few, like the jellyfish bottle, are also utilitarian, which adds value to customers. For example, a popular item each year is the annual glass Christmas ornament. This year’s limited edition collectible features red and green cascading over a clear globe accented with silver and gold flakes.
Showing Navy Pride
As one of the 10 official museums operated by the United States Navy, the Naval War College Museum in Newport, R.I., has become a national historic landmark and unique tourist destination thanks to its collection of historic artifacts and art.
The museum’s gift shop is actually comparable to many college bookstores that are stocked with items that showcase the insignia, which has become a point of pride for graduates, veterans and their loved ones alike.
Most notably, said Jordan Lang, the buyer for the shop, popular home décor items include diploma frames and prints of academic buildings on the campus, as well as hand-embroidered pillows and a sweatshirt blanket. Items with the Naval War College name and/or insignia tend to sell really well at the shop overall.
Some of the new items at the shop this season, said Lang, include the Naval War College Logo socks and Under Armour quarter zips, also with the Naval War College logo.
Other exclusive items being sold include napkins, old-fashioned glass sets, coffee mugs, holiday ornaments and shot glasses, all with the college logo.
For quite some time the shop also sold prints of the buildings on campus created by a local artist. “We just recently sold out,” she explained, “so I am in the process of looking into more local artists.”
Works on Display and To Buy
The American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) has long championed work by artists specializing in ceramics in Pomona, Calif., and as such, the gift shop has become a very popular place to find some of the most interesting items in this field.
Kimberly Andrade, a spokesperson for AMOCA, said that the most popular home décor items being sold at the gift shop are vases and planters. “The prices for these pieces,” she said, “range from $12 to $400. Our store mainly consists of functional and nonfunctional work by ceramicists.”
This season, Andrade has introduced a new collection of planters that have been doing really well. Also popular as the Mata Ortiz pots that were first introduced last summer.
Other artful items range from decorative plates featuring bird designs, as well as platters and wall plaques. More utilitarian pieces include hand-made teapots and cups, mugs, bowls and storage jars, as well as saucers, pitchers and sushi sets.
“Items on sale in the store can often be tied to certain shows,” explained Andrade. “For example, our sale of Mata Ortiz pots is in conjunction with our current exhibition, Juan Quezada: The legend of Mata Ortiz, was here until the end of December. And currently, our exhibition on Avian Clay includes two Northern California artists.” Several pieces in the show are for sale through the museum store.
Playing a Winning Hand with Handmade Gifts
More museum gift shops are showcasing goods created by independent artists and craftspeople. Not only are these items unique to each shop, they often celebrate the local area in which the museum is located. Here are three considerations to make when introducing new handmade pieces into the mix.
• Track the Artist. Find out if the artist sells his/her/their work at any other area retail locations. Ideally, you want to feature goods that can’t readily be purchased locally. However, some artists are very much in demand – and having their work in the shop can attract collectors.
• Showcase Value and Cost. Consider the quality and price points of each piece. While it’s expected that original works will be priced higher than mass-market goods, you really have to know your customer base. At larger art museum gift shops that attract international guests, for example, more people may be willing to spend more for unique, highly collectible items. Some art collectors will even travel to places exclusively to make purchases.
• Cater to Collectors and Travelers. Consider if having exclusive products will appeal to more customers. For example, select shops have artists on site making work that is only available on location. For a destination that specializes in a certain media (like glass or ceramics) this can be a real draw to tourists and collectors alike.