With all the time and expense people spend picking out Christmas gifts for friends and family, they want their presents to be special or unique. That mission can be accomplished by shopping locally at museum gift shops and art galleries.
Alpena boasts its share of both with the Besser Museum and Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in the way of museum gift shops and Art in the Loft and the Thunder Bay Arts Council Gallery for art galleries. All are well-stocked for the holiday season and offer a huge variety of unique and special gift options.
At Art in the Loft, located in the Center Building in downtown Alpena, jewelry and pottery are just two of the many mediums showcased by the 30 artists currently participating in the 2011 Winterview exhibit. Ten of those artists work in jewelry.
Photo above: These pottery pieces at Art in the Loft are by artist Doug McDowell, who after many years of buying antique, artisan and souvenir pottery, decided to learn the process for himself.
"Just about every single artist in here has a unique spin on jewelry," said jewelry artist Lynne Freitag, who combines felting and beads in creating her pieces.
Rita Wilberg also exhibits her jewelry at Art in the Loft. She features a collection of earrings and pendants made from materials all found on a beach, whether along the Great Lakes, on both shores of the United States or in the Caribbean. Each piece is labeled with its point of origin. Wilberg also currently works with a metal called niobium that is considered highly hypo-allergenic and comes in all kinds of fun colors.
Among the potters whose artworks are highlighted at Art in the Loft are Michael and Mieko Kahn, Sam Machulis, Lesslee Dort and Doug McDowell.
"They are all different," said gallery coordinator Liz Smigelski. "Michael Kahn focuses on his unique subject of insects, Sam uses different colors, Doug focuses on geometric patterns and shapes, and Lessee does her mosaics and ladies."
The gift store at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center also has a plentiful supply of gift ideas, including reversible fleece-lined jacket that feature the center's familiar whale tale logo.
"These go like hotcakes," said store employee Bev Huard. "They are made so well. We definitely sell a lot of them."
Also popular with visitors to the center are the Michigan mittens that sport an outline of the Upper Peninsula on one hand and the Lower Peninsula on the other hand. The mittens sell for $14.96 a pair.
Another unique gift is the scull or stocking cap that was designed by Fourth Element, a famous dive team based in London, England.
"They collaborated with NOAA to come up with the hats," Huard said. "All the divers wear them when they come of out of the water to warm up. They are very popular."
The gift shop at the center has an impressive selection of books for both adults and children. A special promotion throughout December for shoppers who spend $50 or more is a free unframed Robert McGreevy ship print which normally sells for $29.95.
From candy to candles to Christmas cards, the Holiday Gift Boutique at the Besser Museum is filled to the brim with handmade wares of all kinds created by local artists and crafters. Two in particular are Vivian Hepburn of Ossineke, who makes stylish purses and bags, and Jerry Smith of Millersburg, who is a self-taught woodworker. Smith makes unique wooden boxes out of legally harvested shipwreck oak. When making pieces, he is drawn to the oddities in wood found in nature such as burls and knots.
According to Besser Museum staff member Amanda Dozier, candy made by Stoney Acres Winery has proven to be a real favorite this year in the gift boutique. The candy selection includes peanut brittle, peppermint bark, caramel chews and other chocolates.
Kids looking to do a little bit of inexpensive shopping can pick up polished stones, ornaments, notecards and even astronaut ice cream for less than $5.
Like the other three shopping destinations, the TBAC Gallery located on Chisholm Street in the downtown doesn't lack for artistic options and unique gifts in a wide price range. The new gallery space, which opened earlier this year, features everything from photograph art, pottery, jewelry, oil and acrylic paintings to hand-painted furniture, baskets, glass art and even whimsical creations, all executed by area artists.
"Small local shops are always fun to shop in, and they are all local artists here," said gallery volunteer Jean LaVigne.
Among the unique items found at the TBAC Gallery are glass ball ornaments encased in basket weaving done by artist Mary Madilk.