If you know me at all, y'all know that museums, art galleries, and historic homes, no matter where I am, are a huge attraction for me. Growing up just outside the District line as a child, with exposure to all of the Smithsonian Museums and historic homes, it helps define your interests, curiosity and stewardship of history, art and culture.
I've reveled in my visits to Mercer House in Savannah, Decatur House in Washington, D.C., Mardi Gras World in New Orleans, The Alamo in San Antonio and many more - all with equal enthusiasm and curiosity.
So, Blue Crew – we are getting off the front porch today and taking online field trip to find some unusual gift ideas this year for those on your list.
Gift shops at museums and historic homes offer unique items – from silk scarves silkscreened with masterpieces like Starry, Starry Night or Munch's The Scream to coffee tables books that reflect temporary exhibits housed in the museum and even pottery or jewelry from local artists.
Friends and relatives will applaud your creativity and love the fact that you are actually helping a museum with a purchase from their gift shop. BONUS: many of these museums offer access to online exhibits and virtual tours and offer discounts on gift shop purchases with a membership (although a membership is NOT required, of course to purchase gifts).
I've created a ticketless adventure to the southern landmarks and museums to get you started – from Baltimore and the Biltmore to the Big Easy, here are some thoughtfully curated inspirations to place under the tree (keep in mind there are many more items available in these gift shops - I chose items in various price ranges, interests and age groups).
1 - The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, (MD)
Handmade in the U.S., this gorgeous brass bangle is designed after a
2 - The Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kitty Hawk, (NC)
This Wright Brothers Model Kit is a perfect stay-at-home project for ages 10 and up. At only $14.95 it brings hands-on history to life and while marking an important milestone in aviation history. Visiting the Outer Banks isn't 'just' beach time or pier fishing - if you've spent anytime in Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk, you've probably walked around this national park and visited this monument learning about Wilbur and Orville Wright at the site of the first successful airplane flight. You'll be reminded of this, too, as you pass North Carolina cars bearing the license plate motto: "First in Flight!" Due to purchases like this, through America's National Parks shops, $163 million has gone in support of the National Park Service.
3 - The High Museum of Art, Atlanta (GA)
Inspired by Joseph DeCamp's The Blue Mandarin Coat (The Blue Kimono),
1922, the artist's last work is a High Museum exclusive! Made in Italy of silk and wool, this stunning piece is sure to please the most discriminating art lover. This unique shawl says - all at once - the wearer has discerning taste and supports the arts. $250 (non-member price). Located in the arts district in the Woodruff Arts Center of Midtown Atlanta, the High is listed in the top 100 of world art museums. Dedicated to collecting and supporting southern artists, the High boasts 15,000 works of art in its permanent collection.
4 - The Biltmore, Asheville (NC)
It is difficult to locate a southern butler's pantry with OUT an Asian-inspired plate, serving bowl, or decorative item. This monochrome Chinoiserie plate is crafted in the traditional method that Royal Crown Derby has used since 1750 is exclusive for Biltmore®. It is inspired by the regency style of restraint and East
Asian artistic tradition. Single plate at $135; each plate has a slightly scalloped edge and is available in seven colors. Since the Vanderbilt's entertained in the highest style of hospitality, I also recommend - if you are allowed to receive wine deliveries in your state - a choice from the Biltmore's own wine selection, including their Christmas wine, red or white, which my family very much enjoyed. For those who prefer a non-alcoholic treat, the Biltmore has themed teas to give you warmth with flavorful comfort over the winter. Be sure to explore their entire online gift shop for more many more themed and specialty items.
5 - 1850's House Museum, New Orleans (LA)
Most of us leave the Big Easy with visions of wrought iron balconies with flourishes and flowers and these earrings available in either brass or silver, called Baroque Dreams, are the perfect reminder of a visit to the French Quarter or the Garden District of this colorful Southern city. At only $28.95, they are a
reasonably priced gift to commemorate a memory or announce a future trip. The 1850's House carries jewelry from 11 local artists as well as three others from around the U.S. While browsing the online gift shop, be sure to check out their reproduction vintage maps, New Orleans inspired housewares, men's heritage scarves and their lovely Christmas ornaments, including a NOLA street car!
6 - George Washington's Mount Vernon (VA)
With all there is to choose in the massive offerings of the Mount Vernon gift boutique, I have chosen this pen made from wood sourced from one of three different trees planted at Mount Vernon; white oak tree circa 1783, swamp oak circa 1771 and a pecan tree circa 1850. This distinctive gift is useful, elegant, environmentally and historically unique and created by Doug Dill, master wood crafter in Virginia. The pens are numbered on the interior gold plated barrel; small card with the number and tree source is included in every gift box. Each pen is accompanied by a numbered certificate signed by the Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. $98
As a frequent visitor to Washington's Mount Vernon near Alexandria, Virginia, the gift store - both in-person and online - is one of the most expansive and extravagant of any historic home or museum in which I have shopped. From useful gift baskets with an historic twist, to commemorative and decorative art, ornaments, gilded wall mirrors, brass wall sconces, Windsor settees and seed packets, the seeds of which are grown, picked and hand packaged on site - sink into it all - you're going to need some time - and possibly a moving van!
7 - Birmingham Museum of Art (AL)
Within the library of options at the Birmingham Museum of Art, I was struck by
Still vibrantly resonating more than 50 years after it was first published, it is a New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book and 1993 Parents' Choice Award recipient. Lauded for capturing the legacy, and urgency, of Tubman's struggles while leading slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad, this book is a wonderful companion to BMA's current exhibitions and certainly a book that stands the test of time in the library of all Americans. Full color, paperback, $8.99.
8 - The Cummer Museum (FL)
One visit to Jacksonville's Cummer Museum and you understand their obsession with flowers and creatures of the garden which is why I chose this piece by southern potter, Nina J. This food safe snack dish is microwave and dishwasher safe.
While there are 5,000 works of art to be explored at the museum, including those of masters Peter Paul Rubens, Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell, and Frederic Remington, among others, the gardens, situated on the banks of the St. Johns River, were famous with heritage plants, most of which were destroyed a few years ago by Hurricane Irma. With rare horticultural specimens nestled under a canopy of mature live oak trees, expansive views of the river and meditative spots to soak in the southern sun, you will see the boutique reflects the museums enthusiasm for nature from printed hummingbird umbrellas to beautiful puzzles.