Gift shops aren't just for gifts anymore

When looking for the next great addition to your wardrobe, try a museum store.
Crosscut archive image.

Brooch, hair pin, pendant, and scarf from the Wing Luke Asian Museum Marketplace. (Wing Luke Asian Museum)

When looking for the next great addition to your wardrobe, try a museum store.

I head to a museum for my art and culture fix, taking in the offerings — from Impressionists to Romans — and maybe even suffer a little indigestion after the unexpected special exhibit on body art. I leave a museum feeling sated, educated, and maybe even a little smug. But let's face it; Everyone has room for a little dessert. Enter the pull of the gift shop on the way out.

It's hard to beat the warm, fuzzy feeling of buying a piece of original art, with the added bonus that because your purchase directly benefits a great arts organization, you don't have to feel buyer's remorse. There is also the draw of applied art, art that's whole purpose is to be both beautiful and useful. The two combined make for guilt-free shopping.

If, like myself, you have a love of applied art and a stylista nature, you probably look to many of the local fairs and markets for interesting artisan items to add to your wardrobe. But what about the inventory of apparel and accessories in Northwest museum gift shops? Museums have fabulous paper products, books, and art objects for sale. But what about wearable art? I set out to see what Seattle museums have to offer.

My first stop is the newly opened Wing Luke Asian Museum Marketplace in Seattle's International District. On a recent visit to the Marketplace, I was struck by the breadth of age-appropriate clothing and accessories. It is a rare occurrence when the clothing and accessories aren't all geared toward "patron age" clientele. (Let's define "patron age" as over 50.)

How may silk-screened scarves do 20- to 40-year-olds really buy? Not many, according to Eli Kim, Marketplace manager. Kim says that they are specifically trying to cater to all ages because they want to support the local community by embracing all Seattle Asian Americans and their experiences. Despite the preferences of the under 50 set, Marketplace's best-selling item to date is the Wing Luke Asian Museum scarf, which is silk-screened with sketches of Seattle's Chinatown-International District.

The new Marketplace has been open for only one month, and a fair amount of the merchandise was brought in specifically because of its Asian-based style. Kim says he would very much like to add more items produced in the Northwest. The thoughtful purchasing was done by local consultants at Works Consulting and is a stop-gap until they can build more relationships with Asian American artisans in the Northwest. After spending an hour shopping the merchandise, I'm sold.

It took some doing to narrow it down, but here are my top five picks of wearable art from the Wing Luke Asian Museum:

1) Cambodian messenger bags — These come in some great colors and are swimming with patterns of fish and Cambodian text. Once I found out they were made from recycled fish food bags, I was hooked. $49, Lantern Moon

2) Gorgeous Asian-inspired brooch — Each of these jewelry pieces from Joli Jewelry is made with recycled antique pieces of jade, glass, and ceramics from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. $56, Joli Jewelry

3) Washi paper fish pendant — Made from Washi origami paper, but you would never know to look at it. The beautiful construction, clever design, and wallet-friendly price point make this a great gift. $24, Legend Design

4) Kimono fabric hair pins — Made from acrylic-covered kimono fabric, these slip in a loose knot of hair to make an elegant and interesting up-do. $14, imported from Japan

5) Tsutakawa sterling silver earrings — These are custom designed by noted local artist Gerry Tsutakawa. The earrings are modeled after the handles of the grand entryway of the Museum's doors. Once you've seen the beautiful architecture of the new Museum, you'll want to take a piece home, too. $65, Gerry Tsutakawa

There are many honorable mentions, but one not to miss is a T-shirt designed by Troy Tsuchikawa. These black T-shirts for women and men have an ethereal looking photo of earth being orbited by the top part of the Space Needle. It's been coined the "Seattle-ite" shirt. Tsuchikawa is an employee at the Wing Luke Asian Museum — can't get much more local than that. $25, Troy Tsuchikawa for Steez Luis

The Wing Luke Asian Museum is located at 719 South King Street in Seattle's Chinatown-International District. Marketplace Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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