Museum gift shops aren't usually known for their good taste -- think boxy, stiff T-shirts, garish magnets and easily breakable key chains tied to whatever forgettable exhibition is currently on display. As you do your holiday shopping this season, though, don't rule out these Museum District stores -- you might be pleasantly surprised by the craftsmanship and charm of their offerings. In fact, we broke it down for you based on type of person you're shopping for.
For the crafts lover Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main, 713-529-4848
The Houston Center for Contemporary Craft's gift shop isn't so much a gift shop but a gallery that sells affordable art. In fact, it's even called the Asher Gallery, and highlights national and local craft artists, some even artists-in-resident at the space. One such artist is Leslie Shershow, whose plastic, "diamond rings" ($60), as she calls them, are quickly becoming hits. They're part of the artist's "Quilted" series of jewelry, and come in a number of bright, bold colors, perfect for the friend that always stands out in a crowd.
Jewelry by dconstruct has also been popular, and affordable ($29-$36), choices at the shop, which is the only gallery in Houston, maybe Texas, that carries it. On the higher end of jewelry is Tana Acton, whose wire jewelry -- bracelets and rings made from one continuous wire, with beads and stones added in elegant designs -- ranged from $98 for the rings to $288 for some of the bracelets. There's more wire craftiness to admire in the Luna baskets ($29-$255), above, which can be used decoratively, to hold light items such as yarn, or even as evening bags for the light traveler. For the friend who's far away, don't pass over Michael Farris's artful initial cards ($10), which are perfect for framing.
There will be a members' sale from November 17 to 20, kicking off on November 17 with a trunk sale by Heidi Gerstacker from 5:30-8 p.m.
For the royalty in your life Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet at Main, 713-639-7300
When the Museum of Fine Arts decided to host the Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs exhibition, it also got its gift shop. Sure, you can expect the usual cheesy items, all with a King Tut theme (hand towels, chocolate, even, inexplicably, a stein), but there are some unique things if you can stand to weed through the crap.
Items that caught our eye included a turquoise necklace and earrings set (though it's a whopping $480); a gold leaf necklace ($150) with green beads that would make even the most pale woman feel like Cleopatra; romantic, pink, perfume bottles ($49.95); alabaster vases ($40); and personalized hieroglyphic jewelry -- definitely a step up from those rice necklaces you can get in the mall -- which can be made to order in sterling silver ($65) and 18k gold (upwards of $470). If you must get a King Tut-inspired item, the mini-King Tuts ($40) -- which come encased in their own coffins -- can be unique decorative items that aren't emblazoned with the show's name.
For the tchotchke collector Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Blvd., 713-284-8250
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For the most completely random, impractical, but funnest gifts to receive, look no further than the Contemporary Arts Museum. Sure, it may be all serious upstairs, with exhibitions like the current Donald Moffett exhibition, but downstairs, you can find animal shot glasses, balloon dog piggy banks and fisticuff mugs.
It would be impossible to list everything the store has because, simply, there's just that much crammed in its corner, but some of the items that managed to stand out included a Russian doll pepper mill ($42), the OCD chef cutting board ($24.95), for obsessive chopping and dicing, flasks that have "Salut" and "To my health" etched on them ($25), and a row of colorful Pantone-inspired mugs ($12.95 each). Because, why not.
For the nature lover Houston Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Dr., 713-639-4629
No surprise, the Houston Museum of Natural Science can get a little nerdy with its offerings -- tons of geodes and agate slabs, bedazzled bug statues, actual taxidermied bugs. This stuff floats somebody's boat, but you can still satisfy the science lover in your circle without buying dead bugs. For one, there's the solar system globes ($130) -- mini versions of Saturn, the Big Dipper, Orion's Belt, Mars, Mercury, a black hole, the Sun and more. They're beautiful little spheres that can be put right on display. Under the sea, you can find an intriguing glass octopus paperweight ($36) for a nice decorative piece, and goofy fish wine stoppers ($14.95) for some quick stocking stuffers.You'll still have to avoid whole sections of toys and exhibition-themed nonsense (especially at the Gift Shop, which isn't worth visiting unless you want pounds of rocks and butterfly catchers), but there are good finds to be had at the Museum Store.