By Natalie Hope McDonald
Within just a few cobblestoned blocks, Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood is a history buff’s dream. Not only does the neighborhood offer a glimpse into the country’s wild colonial days, it provides insights into everything from our political process to urban experience over the last 300 years.
Old City Philadelphia is also where visitors find the National Liberty Museum, a 17-year-old museum that uses glass art to demonstrate timely issues related to liberty, democracy and inclusion.
The museum, which is located in the heart of the historic district in a small, unassuming building, has become a popular destination for tourists and school groups interested in having discussions about complex issues in new ways – not to mention locals who have come to rely on the gift shop for its beautiful array of merchandise, including standout jewelry pieces by many local, national and international artists.
Meegan Coll, glass art director at the museum, handles both the logistics of the annual glass auction, an important fundraiser for the venue, and the merchandising of the gift shop, which has been remodeled in recent years to meet the demands of its customers, which can range between school groups and tourists to locals looking for great gift ideas.
The shop is bright and sleek – and features glass art and other items that appeal to customers interested in both modern and more traditional aesthetics.
“A great set we have right now are miniature glass bead woven sculptures by Sharmini Wirasekara,” said Coll. “We always keep some form of beaded glass jewelry,” she explained, “as well as local and international silver and wire designs.”
With exhibitions focused on politics and heroics, the museum has found interesting ways to draw parallels between the fragility of glass and that of diversity and democracy in an era that is calling in to question much of what we may have thought we knew about these complex issues. It’s not a stretch to acknowledge that the pieces in the gift shop also reflect some of the exhibitions designed to inspire people. Over the years, the shop has celebrated some of the best and brightest glass artists and jewelry designers in the world.
“Many of our popular jewelry items are seasonal and gift-based,” explained Coll, “including glass heart motifs, Turkish-style coin jewelry, and handcrafted metal filigree.”
The gift shop also sells a pink ribbon pendant in honor of breast cancer awareness by Eva Shelley, as well as a sophisticated glass pinecone necklace by Anat Sapir. The jewelry runs the gamut in terms of price, with some items as low as $35 and going well into the hundreds. Higher priced items are often one of kind, and created by well-known craftspeople that are a boon to collectors.
Because the merchandise – especially the jewelry – shifts depending on season and fashions, Coll gets creative with displays to ensure that repeat guests always see something new and exciting. She likes to highlight seasonal and artist-based collections in rotation, keeping in mind holidays, weather and most trafficked times of year (like the holidays and summer).
“We house most of our jewelry collection in our gift shop upon entering the museum,” she explained, “with some more delicate items on view in our Glass Access Gallery, also located within the museum.”
The Access Gallery is a new addition to the museum – it spotlights unique glass art, everything from sculptures to jewelry. It takes the gift shop experience to another level, turning merchandise into exhibited art.
Coll has a great sense of what her customers tend to be looking for, whether it comes to collecting glass art or jewelry (or both, in many cases). There tends to be a small, but very loyal following of collectors of this type of work– be it showcased or wearable.
“Our quick sellers are the simplistic designs, pendants and charms,” she said. Often these items are being purchased for a loved one by a visitor as a memento of a trip or simply because the recipient is a collector.
“Our loyal patrons, on the other hand,” said Coll, “gravitate toward more artistic, sculptural and textural designs.” The diversity between these demographics means that Coll is able to really experiment with inventory provided there are always classic pieces at the ready, as well as highly prized, often rare pieces that are ideal for the diehards.
Because Coll manages all facets of the annual art auction, her proverbial Rolodex of artists is fat. She knows who to go to if someone is looking for a Renaissance-inspired piece, for example, or even something that screams Pop Art. When it comes to glass, the possibilities are endless.
A Creative Collaboration
Art, culture and outdoor fun collide at the Taubman Museum of Art in the heart of downtown Roanoke, Va. The museum’s 11 galleries showcase about 15 to 20 different exhibitions each year, attracting people from all over the region and the U.S. to see work from a range of artists, like John James Audubon and Sally Mann.
The museum offers special events throughout the year that also seem to attract new visitors each season, like late nights, sidewalk art shows and seasonal events (hello, Dickens of a Christmas). The special events have tapped into a demographic of young professional eager to have fun and shop.
Sunny Nelson, a spokesperson for the museum, said the gift shop is managed by a third-party vendor that has wonderful relationships with vendors and artists alike. Tink’s at the Taubman, as it’s called, has been operating this way since last year when the shop opened under the new name with a beautiful selection of carefully selected inventory with the museum in mind.
“[Owner Ninette White] sells lots of handcrafted, high-end jewelry by talented local and regional artists,” Nelson said.
Located on the ground floor of the museum, the gift shop reflects the museum’s strong focus on regional and national artists. Not only does the shop offer a selection of outstanding jewelry, customers will also find items related to home décor, as well as unique gifts that can’t be found elsewhere.
The carefully curated merchandise often reflects what is happening in the museum by featuring items by many regionally known artists, like jewelry designer Christi Kang.
“Guests at Tink’s at the Taubman will notice the museum’s exhibition themes reflected in many of the boutique’s offerings,” explained White. “And they’ll recognize many of the region’s artists they’ve come to know and love.”
South by Southwest
The creative community of New Mexico has a long history in the jewelry arts. The bounty of this relationship can be found right in the gift shop at the Taos Art Museum.
The store offers a truly diverse selection of fine arts and crafts for the region – much of which was made in the nearby Taos arts colony that has become famous worldwide. Other pieces come from as far as Russia with proceeds benefiting the museum.
Leslie Lancaster, a spokesperson for the Taos Art Museum, said, “We have local artist from New Mexico showing jewelry in our store. We keep a wide variety of custom pieces for sale, from silver and gold to copper and turquoise, as well as glass, bone, pearls, opal and coral jewelry, all one of a kind pieces. We keep them all in stock.”
Visitors making the museum a stop in their travels have come to count on the shop to carry items that somehow reflect the colorful region and its Native American and Mexican roots.
“The most popular,” she said, “is silver and turquoise jewelry, including necklaces, earrings and cuff bracelets. Both traditional and modern forms sell, however the traditional forms tend to get more attention.”
Customers who are interested in the jewelry tend to like both traditional and creative approaches to styles that have come to be associated with the American Southwest – this is especially true when it comes to materials being used.
“Our artists,” said Lancaster, “are from New Mexico, and mainly from the Taos and Santa Fe areas. We have a number of glass display cases throughout the store that are well lit and display our jewelry nicely.”
An added incentive, perhaps, is the shop gives a 15 percent discount on merchandise to veterans and military families.