When it comes to finding distinctive gifts, I’ve long been a fan of gift shops inside arts and culture venues, such as Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Desert Botanical Garden and Heard Museum.
They’re great spots to find thoughtfully designed items you don’t see every place else.
But among these purveyors of uncommon wares, there’s one place to find even more distinguishing — not to mention handmade and local — goods: The Store at Mesa Arts Center.
“It’s all local artists, and the items they have there are juried by fellow artists,” says Susan Cook, who helps run the bright and airy artists’ cooperative.
About 50 artists show and sell work there.
“There’s wood work, cards, pottery, handpainted silk scarves, a lot of wonderful jewelry,” says Cook.
On my visits to the store, which is tucked into the MAC campus and not easily spotted from the street, I’ve found a majority of price tags within reach.
“It’s not like there’s just a bunch of fancy oil paintings on the wall. The artists realize you can’t sell everything for $150 or $1,000 or what have you,” says Cook. “So, you’ll see earrings for $20 or handmade greeting cards for a few dollars. There are a lot of small gift items — glass work and little metal work — that’s very reasonable, in the $3 to $4 range, and up to $20 or so for scarves.”
Vivid and quirky glass magnets and pins ($2 and up) by Marilyn Cohn or glossy paper butterflies by Pat Garb ($9) are good choices for co-workers, kids or teens. A wine cork trivet ($28) by Aimé Avniel or wood salad tongs ($25) by Richard M. Kerrell make artful choices for relatives with well-appointed kitchens. Whimsically painted ceramic pumpkins ($12 and up) by Ann Orlando are seasonal no-brainers, perfect for teachers and hostesses.
The same artists who stock the store also hang out there.
“We demonstrate three hours per week,” Tempe’s Susan Canasi told me as she filed copper hearts. Orlando, of Mesa, also popped in, painting clay monsters and chatting with shoppers.
Cook says the store is almost always manned by a demonstrating artist, and artist involvement keeps the inventory fresh.
“The artists are creating new work all the time. They’re keeping tabs on what sells, so when something sells, they keep trying to fill their spot,” she says.
Ten percent of every sale goes to cover the co-op’s operating costs. Twenty percent benefits the Mesa Arts Center Foundation, MAC’s fundraising arm. The artist keeps 70 percent.
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