Connecticut Museum Shops: Best of Show
The shop at the Wadsworth Atheneum.
Best Boutique: Bruce Museum
A worthy complement to Greenwich’s downtown shops, the smallish (800-square-foot) but mint Bruce Museum store showcases a wealth of items in a broad price range, notably jewelry by artisans like Catherine Canino, formerly of Stamford, whose pieces start at $125. There are also fine accessories—hats (Scala, $20-$40), scarves (Yarnz cashmere, from $120) and purses (Sorial, $25-$200), men’s ties (Josh Bach, $42)—along with hostess gifts from handsome lacquer trays ($22-$88) to stunning Josh Simpson glasswork ($85-$550), and children’s games, plushes and books. According to retail manager Justine Matteis, the store “always carries things that relate back to the exhibits,” including art books and exhibition catalogues for adults and animalia for young visitors, which in the case of Chinasaurs: Dinosaur Discoveries from China (through April 21) runs from windup dinos ($3) to plushes ($20). Speaking of young visitors, the rocks and minerals section relates back to the Bruce collection and offers sparklers that geologists-in-training can buy singly or by the bag ($4.95).
1 Museum Dr., Greenwich, (203) 869-0376, brucemuseum.org, Tues.-Sat. 10-4:30, Sun. 1-4:30 (museum open till 5).
Best Impression: Florence Griswold Museum
The 400-square-foot museum store in the Florence Griswold House’s Krieble Gallery is, like the house itself, home to an impressive collection, most inspired by the Old Lyme Art Colony. For children, look for art supplies, puzzles and books (we liked Monet Paints a Day, $15.95, and Anholt’s Artists Activity Book, $11.99). For adults, look for art and local-interest books (hard to pass up Rum Runners, Governors, Beachcombers & Socialists: Views of the Beaches in Old Lyme, $25) and artful gifts, from beeswax candles in various designs from Mansfield’s Swift Farms ($12) to aluminum mobiles by Chester’s David J. Row ($135-$138) and giclee prints by Lyme’s Angie Falstrom ($150). Best buys are 10-by-16-inch prints of paintings in the house (12 for $12), American Impressionist notecards (20 for $15.95) by Pomegranate and well-priced jewelry by Connecticut artisans (Lisbon’s Jennifer Johnson, Chester’s Donna Carlson, Old Lyme’s Michaelle Pearson). At the high end are glass bowls ($200-$300) and a splendid serpentine lamp ($1,800) by Old Saybrook’s Mundy Hepburn.
96 Lyme St., Old Lyme, (860) 434-5542, flogris.org, Tues.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. 1-5.
Best Mini: Hill-Stead Museum
If you believe good things come in small packages or are a Hill-Stead aficionado, you’ll feel right at home in the carriage barn’s tiny (300-square-foot) museum store, with its books on mistress of the manor Theodate Pope Riddle and the artists whose paintings transform the house itself into a work of art (Monet, Manet, Degas, Cassatt). You’ll also find shirts and totes imprinted with images of their paintings ($30-$34.95), silk scarves echoing designs in the house ($49.95), Japanese woodblock prints inspired by Hill-Stead’s Japonica ($95) and original paintings of the house (from $400). Beyond these, the shop carries truly local items (honey from Hill-Stead hives, $5; scarves made from the wool of sheep that graze on the land, $130), gift-worthy imports from Europe (soaps and tea towels), and work by local artisans, such as West Hartford’s Forrest Doyle’s too-beautiful-to-cut-on cutting boards ($59-$85).
35 Mountain Rd., Farmington, (860) 677-4787, hillstead.org, Tues.-Sun. 10-4.
Best One-Man Show: The Mark Twain House & Museum
Twainiacs find the mother lode in the 1,200-square-foot museum store, a paean to Hartford’s larger-than-life Gilded Age resident, who lived in the grand Tiffany-decorated manse from 1874 to 1891. Understandably, the top seller is The Loveliest Home That Ever Was: The Story of The Mark Twain House in Hartford ($19.95); a close second is The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain ($3.75). Twain would doubtless approve the placement of witty “Twainisms,” e.g., “May you always keep your youth” above Victorian-era toys, marbles, yo-yos, etc., “Clothes do not merely make the man . . . clothes are the man” above T-shirts, “An extraordinary gift is the supremest pleasure in life” above Tiffany-style lamps ($230), “If books are not good company, where will I find it?” above volumes by and about Twain. Of special note: a set of whiskey glasses emblazoned with the pipes and cigars, beer steins and kegs etched on his billiard-room windows ($38.95), frog-adorned Funkware recalling “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” (from $26) and aromatic huckleberry items, available only here and in Montana.
351 Farmington Ave., Hartford, (860) 247-0998, marktwainhouse.org, Wed.-Sat. 9:30-5:30, Sun. noon-5:30 (closed Mon., also Tues. Jan.-March).
Best Cultural Eye-opener: Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center
According to its mission statement, The Trading Post seeks “to assist visitors in gaining a meaningful treasure representing their time spent at the museum through the provision and sale of crafts, artwork, pottery and other souvenirs depicting the Native culture of Eastern Woodland peoples and other indigenous tribes,” American and Canadian. And as you’d expect from a Foxwoods enterprise, they do it in a big way, i.e., in an 8,000-square-foot space. In addition to crafts, artwork and pottery, you’ll find beaded moccasins (from $56), handwoven blankets ($44), Native music CDs, dream catchers (minis, $6; a 3-D model of the night sky, $250) and distinctive jewelry, some combining silver and wampum, the purple-and-white material made from seashells that Native peoples used as a token of esteem or to seal a bargain, $50-$300. There’s lots for children, too, from jewelry to deerslayer boomerangs to stuffed wolves and foxes, the Mashantucket Pequot being known as the Fox People.
110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, (800) 411-9671 (museum), (860) 396-6883 (shop), pequotmuseum.org, Wed.-Sat. 9-5.
Best Twofer: Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration
The 3,000-square-foot aquarium store is awash in gifts from or evoking the sea—MarahLago jewelry with larimar and blue topaz ($150-$300), geological keepsakes (marble turtles and dolphins, $10-$15; fossilized sharks’ teeth, $5-$12), glassware with etched sea stars (19-ounce wine glass, $14.99)—along with plushes (baby sea turtle, $7.99; giant penguin chick, $300) and logowear. Most unusual are original 16-by-20-inch framed paintings of penguin footprints, $189.99 (apparently, penguins too are moved to express their inner artists). Among books, there are several with aquarium connections—Dr. Robert D. Ballard’s The Eternal Darkness ($29.95), Astro: The Steller Sea Lion ($16.95) and Curious George at the [Mystic] Aquarium ($3.95). A satellite store features items relating to Ballard’s discovery of the Titanic, including replicas of the china used in First Class ($9.99-$129.99) and newspaper accounts of the sinking ($10-$40). Note: The store is currently closed for renovations according to store director Andrew Larese-Casanova, but there’s a temporary store on the main floor.
55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, (860) 572-5955 (aquarium) and (860) 536-8508 (store), mysticaquarium.org, daily 9-5 except late Feb. to late March 2013.
Best Under Sail: Mystic Seaport, Museum of America and the Sea
Not only is the main Seaport store big (8,000 square feet), it has two seasonal satellites, one geared to groups and another to boaters, as well as a bakery/café off the main store. Most of the action is on the main store’s first floor, where you’ll find myriad items relating to the sea and sea lore, including popular colored deck prisms ($15-$27), the Christmas Memories Book ($19.95), wearables—T’s declaring “I Survived Sleeping on the Conrad” ($14.99), schooner Brilliant caps ($24), whale T’s designed by staffer Don Sineti ($24.95), three-season jackets ($59.99)—Marahlago larimar and Nantucket basket jewelry ($40-$500), and mermaid- and pirate-motif children’s items. With this the year of the Charles W. Morgan’s relaunching, store director Julie Vangel expects all things Morgan, in particular, models, also to do well. Upstairs you’ll find New England’s largest nautical bookstore, posters of Rosenfeld ship paintings and more models. There’s even a place to relax over a good read, perhaps Alan Granby and Janice Hyland’s Flying the Colors or a Buttersworth book.
75 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic, (888) 973-2767 (Seaport), (860) 572-5385 (store), mysticseaport.org, daily 9-5.
Best All-American: New Britain Museum of American Art
The 500-square-foot shop’s floor-to-ceiling streetside windows hint at just some of the treasures within—unusual gifts (wavy black bowls made from LPs, $29; nostalgic clocks, $50), eye-catching accessories (colorful scarves, Baggallini purses), artist and illustrator DVDs and books. Many items are really museum paintings in take-home form—look for Frederick Frieseke’s luminous “The Bird Cage” and Maxfield Parrish’s haunting “Dusk” in prints, notecards and magnets. An appealing children’s section offers windup toys, finger puppets ($8-$12), novelty watches ($10.50) and art activity kits. Managers Judy Gaffney and Donna Downes showcase artisans from Connecticut and beyond: Cheshire’s June Webster (necklaces, from $125), Riverton’s Peter Greenwood (glass bowls, $150), Massachusetts’ Josh Simpson (glass spheres, $125-$275), Michigan’s David Scherer (whimsical clocks, $92-$130) and California’s John L. Perry (magnetic dancing acrobats, $36). For Toulouse-Lautrec & His World (through May 12), they’ve assembled coffee-table books, prints of Lautrec’s Montmartre nightlife paintings and more.
56 Lexington St., New Britain, (860) 229-0257, nbmaa.org, Mon.-Wed. and Fri. 11-5, Thurs. 11-8, Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5.
Best Newbie: Slater Memorial Museum
An up-and-comer is the Slater museum’s new 700-square-foot shop, which opened in late 2011 after an 18-month museum renovation that included construction of an elevator-equipped atrium entrance. Introductory panels explain the background of the museum founded in 1895 by William Slater, scion of a wealthy Norwich family, upon returning from his world tour. Committed to Slater’s goal of broadening visitors’ cultural horizons, assistant museum director Leigh Thomas showcases reproductions of the museum’s plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures; she’s added pieces by Connecticut artisans, from fired-glass pendants by Lisbon’s Jennifer Johnson ($24-$36) to enchanting hanging mermaids and angels by Norfolk metal sculptor Karen Rossi ($19.99-$1,000), along with reproduction 18th-century redware (inkwells, $14; puzzle mugs, $60) from Griswold’s Steinhagen Pottery. And she’s building a children’s section highlighting ancient cultures (Egyptian Hieroglyphics: How to Read and Write Them, $8.95).
108 Crescent St., Norwich, (860) 887-2506, nfaschool.org, Tues.-Fri. 9-4, Sat.-Sun. 1-4.
Best New England Showcase: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art
What many consider a model museum shop is right here in Hartford, in America’s first art museum. Visit the 1,600-square-foot, well-curated (by shop manager Stacey Stachow) collection and you’ll see why. Starting in the children’s section, it’s hard to resist the cuddly Jellycats—Bashful Puppy, Pudge Bunny, Merryday Zebra ($15.95-$24.95) and accompanying board books ($8.95)—hands-on art books and “takeaway stuff,” e.g., color-changing mood pencils (60 cents). Moving on, you’ll find display after display showcasing New England artisans—Calderish earrings by Bolton’s Elaine Agnew (from $20), crocheted beaded necklaces by Hartford’s Jessica Dickens ($60), wooden bowls by Warwick, R.I.’s Chris Buscaglia ($34-$150), glass spheres by Shelburne, Mass.’s Josh Simpson ($90-$275), reversible tapestry jackets from Boston’s Winding River ($165). Artful hostess gifts, like the sculptural “Fruit Loop” ($44), are also standouts. Feeling playful? Pick up a rakish Dali doll ($18) or “Disappearing van Gogh” mug ($12). Look for the shop to take on an Italian cast with Burst of Light: Caravaggio and His Legacy, March 6-June 16.
600 Main St., Hartford, (860) 278-2670, wadsworthshop.org, Wed.-Fri. 11-5, Sat.-Sun. 10-5, first Thurs. 11-8.
Best import: Yale Center for British Art
The 1,200-square-foot YCBA store beckons via two entrances, one in the museum lobby and one on High Street. Once inside, you’ll be captivated by what you see, most of it made in the UK—notecards, books and gifts for adults and what store manager Anissa Pellegrino describes as “cool, different and affordable” children’s things, e.g., traditional and modern games and books, curios (porcelain “flower fairies,” $16.95) and clothing (Chalkboard Tees, $24.95). Some things are nostalgic or whimsical—$10 London street signs, Beatles and “keep calm and carry on” memorabilia and $19.95 “waving queens.” Others are practical—Newgate clocks (from $79.95), or just beautiful—Mackintosh and William Morris silk ties and scarves ($42-$65). For a unique gift, consider some Emma Bridgewater pottery (from $36.95)—this is the only U.S. museum shop that carries it; or Penhaligon’s perfume (Diana wore Bluebell)—$80 to $95—this is the only museum shop worldwide that carries it. Pellegrino is proud to offer items not found elsewhere. Wonder what she’s planning for Edwardian Opulence: British Art at the Dawn of the 20th Century (Feb. 28-June 2).
1080 Chapel St., New Haven, (203) 432-2800 (museum), (203) 432-2828 (store), britishart.yale.edu, Tues.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. 12-5.
Best cross-cultural showcase: Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
Look to the left, right and up when you visit this stellar 1,100-square-foot shop—it’s packed and you won’t want to miss a thing. To the left you’ll find items sure to fire children’s imaginations—dinosaur and other animal models (from under $1), Wild Republic plushes (love the large snow leopard, $22.95), all manner of science kits, hand-selected rocks and minerals, and games, puzzles and books galore. To the right you’ll find beautiful scarves ($14.95-$300), purses and jackets, dazzling jewelry ($5.95-$1,000), Peruvian pottery ($30-$150) and more books. (The Art and Science of Rudolph Zallinger’s Great Dinosaur Mural at Yale, $24.95, includes a full pullout mural.) Look up to see African masks, sculpture and other exotica. There’s also an Egyptian area, where you’ll find mini statues of Osiris and Isis ($34.95 and $39.95) as well as a guide to Egypt’s family affair(s) in The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt ($29.95). Plan on lots more of this when Echoes of Egypt opens April 13.
170 Whitney Ave., New Haven, (203) 432-5050 (museum), (203) 432-3740 (store), peabody.yale.edu, Mon.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-5.