Head to art gallery shops for cool, unique gifts

Unique finds include pillow odes to retro department stores and pepper grinders with Northwest Coast motifs.

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      Let’s be honest here: with the exception of a few masochists, no one actually likes shopping at this time of year. The stores are crowded, the mall parking lots are battle zones, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to be subjected to Mariah Carey no matter where you go.

      Fortunately, you have other options. You could do all your gift-buying online! That way you wouldn’t even have to get out of your pyjamas, and you’d never have to talk to another human being between now and December 25. If that’s your vibe this holiday season, then go with it.

      However, if you’re not a thoroughly antisocial, Gollum-like creature, you might feel more inclined to actually leave the house. If you want to avoid the malls but still pick up some sweet presents for the people on your list, here’s another option. The gift shops of local museums and galleries are full of unique items that will surely be appreciated by anyone whose cultural perspective extends beyond “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas”. We couldn’t possibly list them all, but here are just a few to spark your imagination.

      Recycled-glass grinders (Bill Reid Gallery)
      Bill Pusztai


      Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

      639 Hornby Street

      Born to a Haida mother and a father of Scottish-German descent, the late Bill Reid often bridged both worlds in his work, applying European-style craftsmanship to traditional First Nations subjects. That approach is reflected in a limited-edition silver-frog brooch of Reid’s design ($550; on glass lily pad, $150). Other items in the spirit of Reid’s work include an array of colourful blankets with Northwest Coast motifs ($39.50 to $220) and salt-and-pepper grinders made of recycled glass in slate, rosewood, and ivory colours ($60 each).

      A pillow bearing a design from an old Woodward’s bag (MOV)


      Museum of Vancouver

      1100 Chestnut Street

      It probably goes without saying that MOV’s collection is local-centric. How can you not love the bamboo pins ($10) emblazoned with the logos of long-forgotten entities like the Vancouver Bicycle Club, the Vancouver Roller Rink, and Woodward’s Stag Club? (The Stag Club wasn’t something raunchy; it was the store’s “young men’s fashion advisory group”.) Speaking of that dear departed retail chain, its music department has been immortalized in the form of a down-filled 20-by-20-inch pillow ($79.95) bearing a design taken from a circa-1950 shopping bag. Perfect for anyone who recalls hitting the sixth floor to buy the latest Bay City Rollers LP, or for hipsters too young to remember a time when Woodward’s even existed.

      Initiation and maiden dolls (MOA)


      UBC Museum of Anthropology

      6393 Northwest Marine Drive

      For a quick refresher on what a fascinating, beautiful, culturally diverse planet we live on, a trip to MOA can’t be beat. But you can put the next-best thing under the Christmas tree this year, by giving your loved ones gifts from near, far, and in between. Near: the MOA Shop’s own Live Long and Potlatch T-shirt ($19.95) by Seattle-based Tlingit artist Alison Bremner. Far: dolls from South Africa’s Ndebele tribe represent women at different stages, from puberty to engagement to motherhood ($75 each). In between: life’s too short for matching socks, or at least that’s the thinking behind the intentionally mismatched Solmates ($19.95 per pair), made of recycled cotton yarn for a company based in rural Vermont, presumably somewhere close to the Stratford Inn.

      Vancouver Art Gallery

      750 Hornby Street

      The VAG’s store has such an extensive selection—everything from art books and posters to jewellery, apparel, and toys—that if you visit it before hitting the gallery, you might not have enough time to see the exhibitions. Because of its $900 price tag, the Douglas Coupland–designed Bullseye Coffee Table (signed by the artist himself) might be one of those gifts you give yourself. The Souvenir of Canada author might balk at the notion, but this piece has man cave written all over it. For a masterpiece you can wear, consider the Mona Lisa socks ($25) from JHJ Design. Kids will love Areaware’s wooden Cubebots ($9.95 to $31.95), a sort of low-tech take on Transformers inspired by Japanese kumiki puzzles.