Museum Shops Draw Outside the Lines with Unique Gifts
Oct 31, 2017 05:16PM
By Beth Gavaghan
The Andy Warhol Museum gift shop
If you’re looking to purchase some creative gifts this holiday season, try stepping out of the mall and into one of Pittsburgh’s art museums. Their gift shops contain unique art-inspired items for all ages and interests, ranging from quirky and edgy to smart and sophisticated.
The stores are open during museum hours and shoppers can browse without buying admission. If really crunched for time, shopping online is often possible as most have e-stores. For museum members, another draw—pun intended—is that purchases usually come with a member discount.
Visitors to The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side will notice one of the artist’s famous quotes adorning a gift shop wall: “I don’t think less is more. More is better.” There is plenty of “more” to be had in this store that specializes in entertaining and quirky pop culture, from unique children’s toys to T-shirts, books and art supplies.
“People tend to spend as much time in the museum store as in the museum,” said Kris Schneider, store supervisor. “We are like a mini-museum, except that you are allowed to touch everything.” She noted that the store offers Andy Warhol-licensed items as well as those tangentially related or inspired.
Campbell’s® soup cans, Marilyn Monroe and cows come to mind when one thinks of Warhol. Posters of these Warhol works of art are popular, though they are not the traditional 24’ x 36’ posters that come in a roll, but rather single 11’ x 14’ posters.
“They are easier to grab and go and easier to pack,” said Paul Matarrese, store manager, noting that about half of the museum’s visitors are from outside the Pittsburgh area and packability is key. He added that because they are so reasonably priced, people tend to buy multiple posters.
Other popular items include the Kidrobot Yummy World line of plush food, such as bananas, bacon and French fries. Plus, there are books, pocket journals and assorted novelty items. Even the crayons at the store are unique. Packaged in a Campbell’s® soup can, they include colors like “orange disaster,” “licorice Marilyn,” and of course, “tomato soup.” While shoppers can find many items at the online Warhol Store at www.warholstore.com, some can only be purchased on-site, such as the museum souvenir T-shirts.
Ryan Martin, sales associate at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland, said merchandise in each of the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh’s four locations is carefully selected and often unique to those individual museum shops. Besides The Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie museums include the Museum of Natural History and the Carnegie Science Center. A bonus at Carnegie museums is that the members-only discount jumps from the normal 10 percent to 20 percent from Nov. 11-Dec. 3.
All four museums will be participating in the first ever Museum Store Sunday on Nov. 26. Set between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the day is meant to encourage support of museum stores the world over. For a list of other area museums participating in Museum Store Sunday, visit
Caroline Chandler, store manager at the Carnegie Museum of Art, said that Museum Store Sunday will be a day to celebrate museum stores and what they have to offer. The art museum store will introduce many new brands and lines that day and offer free gift wrapping. “It will be a fun, festive atmosphere,” she said.
“We want people to say, ‘I cannot leave without buying this,’” Chandler added. “If you come in and don’t know where to start, we’ll help you figure it out.”
Museum Store Sunday is not the only event happening at the Carnegie Museum of Art store this holiday shopping season. On Saturday, Dec. 2, the museum will host an open house and offer free gift wrapping. Shoppers can choose from an array of jewelry by local and international designers, creative toys and games, home décor and even kitchen items such as iron teapots and trivets.
“People love books,” Martin said, pointing to the store’s wide selection of art books on fashion, photography and architecture. Other sought-after items include David Howell
& Co. jewelry and merchandise, colorful Brett Kern ceramic dinosaurs and vegan leather purses.
Personal accessories, such as wallets, gloves and socks (many containing fun, recognizable art images) are popular as well, said Emmalee Stipe, sales associate. “We also have scarves that are unique and affordable,” she added.
There is no online shopping option at the Carnegie Museum of Art; those interested in the store’s extensive merchandise need to visit in person. The store does accept mail orders.
Shoppers have several reasons to feel good about making holiday purchases at contemporary art museum the Mattress Factory in the North Side’s Mexican War Streets. Now in its 40th year, the Mattress Factory is known for installation art—large room-sized exhibits—remnants of which are often offered for sale through its shop.
"When you buy, it supports the artist as well as the Mattress Factory," said Sam Ditch, former store manager.
Among remnants currently being sold are acid-etched brass leaves from the 2016 Lauren Kalman installation, But if the Crime is Beautiful, and plaster hands holding hardened loaves of bread from Than Htay Maung’s 2012 My Offering exhibition. All proceeds from the sale of the hands benefit the Northside Food Pantry.
The Mattress Factory shop also features jewelry made by independent artists, most of whom are local or formerly local. Additionally, shoppers can find candles, handmade cutting boards and scarves made from recycled T-shirts, games, books and even unique vintage items such as light-up globes.
Housed in what was once the Stearns & Foster mattress warehouse and spanning three buildings, the Mattress Factory is a unique place to visit and shop. If you leave the store and later regret not making a purchase, no need to worry. "Call us up, we'll get it to you," Ditch said. The store offers a 15 percent discount to members year-round. To browse the Mattress Factory Shop online, visit www.mfshop.org.
The Maridon Museum in Butler focuses on Japanese and Chinese art, and shoppers at its gift store can find Asian-inspired presents to meet every budget, said Roxann Booser, executive director. Popular items include Asian tea mugs with tea holders and lids, and figurines based on the animals in the Chinese zodiac.
“People really like the animal figurines. They buy them for their children and grandchildren,” Booser said.
Shoppers at the Maridon seek Japanese sake sets and Chinese tea sets, chopsticks and cloisonné pens. Jewelry, including some estate pieces, is another draw. Since real cinnabar is toxic, the museum offers imitation pieces with the classic red, wood-carved look; it also stocks soapstone and ginger jars.
The Maridon does not have an online store but is quick to satisfy customers. “If we don’t have it, we are happy to get it for you,” Booser said. Members of the museum (www.maridon.org) receive a 10 percent discount year-round.
Pittsburgh is fortunate to be home to some wonderful art museums and museum shops, but if you can’t decide on a gift, how about a museum membership? It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Other area art museum shops worth a look this holiday season include:
The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh.
The center will transform its store into a holiday shop from Nov. 17 until Dec. 30 and offer items from more than 200 craftsmen, designers and artists. www.enter.pfpca.org/the-shop
The Frick, 7227 Reynolds St., Pittsburgh.
The Frick offers exhibition-related merchandise such as the pinhole camera solargraphy kit, camera wallet, terrarium kits, diffusers, scented markers and tea. www.thefrickpittsburgh.org/visitor-information/shop
Contemporary Craft, 2100 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh
The venue sells craftsmen-made jewelry, ceramics, wearables, glassware, books, bags, furniture and more. www.contemporarycraftstore.bigcartel.com