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Westmoreland Museum shop celebrates American spirit

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 9:02 p.m.
Tribune-Review
Abby Buyna, the Museum Shop Manager of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art American Place bookstore, poses for a portrait on January 8, 2013. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
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The Westmoreland Museum offers a wide variety of jewelry, created by Robin Goodfellow Designs in Douglas, Mich., that takes inspiration from nature and vintage styles. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
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Wild Wings Literary Lodgings are ornamental birdhouses that David Vissat of White Oak fashions from books discarded by libraries or found at flea markets. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

The Westmoreland Museum of American Art aims to educate and inspire people through American art.

That mission extends to An American Marketplace — The Shop at the Westmoreland.

Shop manager Abby Buyna insists on it.

Buyna, who holds a degree in history from Washington and Jefferson College, came to the shop last August from Kentuck Knob, a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Chalk Hill, Fayette County.

“It's important whoever runs the shop doesn't lose sight of the mission; that's where history comes in,” said Judith H. O'Toole, director and CEO of the museum. “Abby's background in history prepared her for the mission here.”

Buyna, who lives in Confluence, couldn't agree more.

She uses that degree to buttress the American spirit and flavor of the museum.

She uses it when working with local artists and aligning the work the shop accepts to what the museum features.

Shop offerings include local pottery; glass, jewelry and textiles; “Art in the Kitchen Cookbook,” published in 1995 by the museum's Women's Committee; American Beauties note cards, and “Born of Fire,” a multimedia offering of Pittsburgh Steel Heritage that traces the story of steel through art, history and song. For children, there are books and games to help them learn about American art.

Prices range from $1 to $250.

“I am the go-between for people interested in consigning their work here to make sure it's all in line with what's hanging on the walls upstairs,” said Buyna, who also works in a partnership with G Squared Gallery in Ligonier.

O'Toole finds that Buyna does a whole lot more.

“Only one of her roles is gatekeeper. We get a lot of solicitations from people who want to sell their work here and she almost has to have an eye of a curator, she has to know what fits in here,” said O'Toole, who lives in Greensburg. “It's also the presentation of the shop, the way items are displayed. It's getting to where she can now advise people.”

The museum has been in existence since 1959. O'Toole said it is unclear when the gift shop began, but she has been at the museum for 20 years and it was there when she started.

Then the shop was located on the second floor under a stairwell.

The entire museum was renovated 13 years ago and the shop moved to its current location on the first floor. The museum, which is closed on Monday and Tuesday, welcomes 28,000 visitors a year.

The gift shop is open seven days a week.

“We're trying to make the shop a destination of itself, but it's based on museum attendance,” O'Toole said. “If we have a big show that draws a crowd, the shop does well.”

It publishes a children's book, “Imagine American Art,” and games, including American Art Bingo to help children recognize artists' faces and learn their names.

O'Toole remembers a time that the shop sold Beanie Babies during the craze that was a direct disconnect with the museum's mission.

“It's a great local place to see great art and buy unique artisan handmade gifts,” said Alyssa Kunselman, a shopper and secretary of Future Leaders of Westmoreland. “I buy beautiful handmade cards, art gifts, items for family out of town.

“I know I'm giving things to people they're not getting anywhere else,” she said.

Kunselman said her favorite events include open houses where people have the opportunity to meet the artists who make the items.

“It builds community when I get to know the faces behind the art,” she said.

The museum will be closing in late summer for a major expansion and renovations. The gift shop, however, will still be open at a location to be determined.

Buyna is busy working on renovation preparations and her favorite aspect of her job — “supporting local artists and American craftsmen in their mission … and, of course, helping someone find something that they love.”

Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.

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