ArtSEA: Make a quantum leap in gift-giving at Seattle museum shops

Find affordable, artsy and amusing items by local makers at the Frye Art Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass and even the Space Needle.

minimalist nesting dolls in many colors

At the Frye Art Museum gift shop, a new take on nesting dolls by Julia Kernerman, one of many local artists whose work is featured in the petite, pretty store. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

This week scientists made an enormous breakthrough in nuclear fusion, manufacturing a reaction that created more energy than went into it. (Here’s how Seattle’s own Bill Nye the Science Guy explains it.) That could mean a bright new future in clean energy. But the question nobody’s asking is: How can we harness this knowledge for holiday shopping?

Many of us put a lot of energy into finding perfect gifts. Is it possible to get even more energy out of the effort? Science says yes! Because when you buy gifts from local artists, designers and makers, the energy you put in is returned manyfold in terms of keeping the local arts ecosystem alive and humming. With one purchase, you’re increasing both the demand for locally made arts and crafts and word of mouth about them — especially when the lucky recipient shows off their gift. 

While pop-up art markets are a great way to support artists, one of my favorite places to exercise these quantum mechanics is at museum gift shops, many of which have excellent collections of local products at price points ranging from “I’ll take two” to “uhh… maybe someday.” Note: Shop websites often show fewer items than are in the actual stores, so try to visit in person if you can (and stop in to see the exhibits too).

The compact but mighty Frye Art Museum Store has tons of fun local art, from Julia Kernerman’s minimalist take on nesting dolls to Diane Katz’s hand-dyed silk scarves to Asia Tail’s sleek beaded jewelry. Sink into Shaana Hatamian’s handwoven throw pillows, scoop up Arne Pihl’s striking wooden spoons or pick up a pack of colorful wavy barrettes from Tiffany Ju’s “Chunks” collection. And for local music fans, Naomi Parker offers a choice in hand-beaded pins — but do you pick Nirvana or Kenny G?

Longtime Seattle hot shop Glass Eye Studio has countless unique ornament options for sale at SpaceBase, the Space Needle's ground level gift shop. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

At the Chihuly Garden and Glass gift shop, you can absolutely drop $3,000-$8,000 on a large-scale work of art designed by Seattle’s giant of glassblowing. But I’m going to humbly recommend instead a silk Chihuly pocket square emblazoned with his vibrant “Macchia” design — seriously dapper, and $35 each. 

You’ll find plenty of works by Northwest artists whose last names aren’t Chihuly in the gift shop as well: Crystalyn Kae’s chic vegan handbags; Melanie Brauner’s “Verso” line of delicate handmade-paper-and-metal jewelry; Moth and Myth’s beautifully realistic paper butterflies. And Seattle artists Liz Tran and Joe Max Emminger have their own design lines, in which their colorful paintings are carried over to socks, scarves, mugs, water bottles, beanies and yoga mats.

While not technically a museum, you can also find local art at the Space Needle. Last week, as I was discovering my love of visiting the Needle at night, I popped into the ground floor gift shop (or “SpaceBase,” as they’d like you to call it). As expected, you can find anything and everything shaped like our city’s architectural icon, from dog toys to puzzles to pepper grinders, and including “Space Noodle” pasta — though sadly this last one lacks the iconic wasp-waist design. 

I may have been in deep SpaceBase too long (picture my pupils cinching to Space Needle shapes), because I started to think the “Seattle Ugly Holiday Sweater” was kind of cool? Anyway, the good news is that a substantial section here is dedicated to local artists.

Henry, the Seattle muralist and prolific painter of Sasquatch, has a line of prints and puzzles featuring his cartoony work. And Jeffrey Veregge, the Port Gamble S’Klallam artist known for his “Salish Geek” style, offers several items emblazoned with his “Reaching for Space” design — a vivid formline take on the Space Needle and various space invaders. For one-of-a-kind gifts, see Emmanuel Aguilera Santos’ hand-blown glass vessels and an impressive wall of handmade glass ornaments by local Glass Eye Studio, one of the oldest privately owned hot shops in the U.S.

Bellingham ceramicist Cary Long is one of many Northwest artists featured in the Seattle Art Museum's SAM Shop. (Brangien Davis/Crosscut)

The Seattle Art Museum’s SAM Shop is a big, sprawling bonanza of artful gifts, including several cases of handmade jewelry by local makers. Look for thin geometric earrings by Kim Williamson, pearled pieces by Simon Gomez and chunky metal works by Sarah Wilbanks. One wall showcases a large collection of carved and painted wood pieces by Coast Salish artists, including salmon, bear, wolf and eagle plaques by Squamish artists Richard Crawshuk, Neil Baker and John August

See also at SAM: several lovely ceramics collections, including adorable animal cups by Cary Lane, bold black-and-white dishware by Sam Scott and earthy vessels by Zoe Peterson. You’ll also find silk scarves by Judith Bird, sculptural felt trivets by Mark Calderon and, for the life of the party in your life, painted paper lampshades by Jil Smith. And one thing that may come in handy this hectic season: a Tariqa Waters tote bag that says simply, “NO.”

I’m out of space and days in the year, but many more museum gift shops in our region showcase regional artists. See Marcia Mahaffey’s gorgeously serene stones wrapped in Japanese basket weaving at Seattle Asian Art Museum’s tiny gift shop; colorful abstract prints by Kristine Cooper at the National Nordic Museum shop; and Raili Janese’s cool cat paintings at Bellevue Art Museum’s totally great gift shop

And just a couple more great options (I can’t stop!): In Tacoma, the Museum of Glass and Tacoma Art Museum both have terrific gift shops with local offerings, as does the Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds and the Lightcatcher Building at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham. 

But if you’re already done with your shopping (or shopping gives you hives), check out Margo Vansynghel’s story this week, wherein she asks local artists for their thoughts on the best ways to support the local arts ecosystem. Hint: You’re doing one right now: subscribing to, reading and perhaps even telling others about local arts journalism. Thank you for that, and for following Crosscut’s arts coverage throughout the year. Cheers to a dynamic burst of arts energy in 2023!

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