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Arts & Entertainment

Support the arts with your Christmas gift-giving

| Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009

If you're cutting back on your Christmas spending this year, you might want to consider buying gifts from some local, nonprofit arts organizations. That way, your gift can help boost struggling groups and delight its recipient. Here are just a few of the items available.

The Andy Warhol Museum

Original Andy Warhols are prohibitively expensive, but the gift shop at the North Side museum that honors him offers a wide variety of prints and posters as well as books, videos, accessories and stationery.

The prints of Warhol's art start as low as $6, but "A Set of Six Self-Portraits, 1967" for $25 and "10 Marilyns, 1967" (Monroe, of course) for $75 show the price range. Also, consider quote posters that combine Billy Name's photos of Warhol with iconic quotes, $12 each.

August Wilson Center

Jazz to jewelry lovers can shop at the August Wilson Center, Downtown.

You'll find beaded bangles made in Kenya ($3.99), the "Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou" ($25.95), and DVDs and CDs ($12.99-$19.99) by native Pittsburghers George Benson, Stanley Turrentine and Phyllis Hyman.

A top seller is the "Hero Deck" set of playing cards ($9.99), illustrated with caricatures of 52 notable black Americans, including Richard Pryor and Whoopi Goldberg on the joker cards. Also available: a reproduction wool flannel Homestead Grays baseball shirt ($169).

Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve

Bird-watching and feeding gear naturally is easy to find at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Indiana Township, but don't overlook the jewelry. The site has feeders from $16 to $200, binoculars from $180 to $600 and Petersen's Field Guides for $19.95. But it also has jewelry from a Costa Rican women's group for $20 and up, as well as items made with crushed heather starting at $30.

Carnegie Museum of Art

Fine-art nightlights ($22) feature the works of artists including Edward Hopper, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Signac. Handmade from medical glass with a metal frame, each nightlight has a high-resolution photographic transparency.

Vazu expandable vases ($8) solve the problem of what to do when unexpected flowers arrive. Polymer-based objects that come in a variety of colors and patterns, the vases add an artful decor to any home -- and easily fold up for storage.

Carnegie Museum Natural of History

BrushArt animals ($7 to $9) -- handmade from leaves, leaf fibers, seeds and seed pods -- make unusual but distinctive Christmas ornaments. For something more exotic, a replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull (1/10 scale), at $59, makes for an unusual paperweight or conversation starter.

Carnegie Science Center

"Educational" toys and games are popular at the Carnegie Science Center store.

The Original TIM Flying Bird ($13.50) is an ultra-light rubber band-powered aircraft that looks -- and flaps its wings -- like a bird.

With the 4M Bottle Catamaran ($16.50), you build a powered toy boat by reusing a discarded water bottle. Who thought recycling could be so much fun•

If you want to go the "classic" route, there's always the 3-D Glow-in-the-Dark Solar System ($22) -- a mobile of the planets that you can hang from the ceiling.

Children's Museum

Once, Uglydolls ($5.95 to $19.95) were something that you'd see only in art-gallery gift shops and hipster craft fairs, but the sort-of-creepy, sort-of-funny, misshapen monsters seem to have gone mainstream in a big way. Now, you can find them at the tiny store in the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, tucked away inside the cavernous cafeteria. There are big ones and little keychain-sized ones, with many shapes, colors and personalities.

There's a pretty good selection of unusual -- and somewhat educational -- games, like Bananagrams ($14.95). This is a fast-paced word game that can be played in as little as five minutes. It comes with 144 pieces -- that look like Scrabble tiles -- in a banana-shaped bag.

Frick Art & Historical Center

Elegant trinkets, posh hostess presents and a thoughtful selection of children-oriented items fill the museum shop in what was once the Frick children's playhouse in Point Breeze.

Look for knit kid-size slipper socks shaped like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ($12), crocheted nylon makeup bags decorated with scalloping from recycled drink-can pop tops ($16) and wood picture frames constructed from Indian batik printing blocks ($40).

Heinz History Center

Relive the Steelers' Super Bowls with a print for $19.95, including a shot of the team praying before winning Super Bowl XL and a photo of their visit to the White House with Barack Obama after winning Super Bowl XLIII.

A five-foot inflatable Heinz ketchup bottle is $26, but the top-selling Heinz item is a ketchup-bottle ornament for $15. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood shoelaces are $1.25, and there are chocolate-covered pickles for $3.95. Yappin Yinzers dolls named Chipped Ham Sam and Nebby Debbie are available for $21.95 each.

National Aviary

Penguin goods -- from snow globes ($8.99) to finger puppets ($3.50) -- are top sellers among gift items at the aviary gift shop, North Side.

Dozens of stuffed toy penguins ($5.99 to $43) share the shelves with penguin tree ornaments ($14.99 for six), penguin backpack charms ($3.50), mini-penguins (60 cents) and penguin rulers ($5.99). Real penguins at the aviary made the shop's novel "signed" paintings ($20 to $40) of penguin footprints on white canvases.

"Bird" ($60) by photographer Andrew Zuckerman, a stunning coffee-table volume, features 200 color photographs of individual birds, including many aviary residents.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

The Shop at Phipps has many things that would make good Christmas gifts for green-minded adults and children.

For the adults, check out the table with Icy Craft decorations. The transparent plastic items, which look like glass, include houses with birds and plants ($26.95), a tall tree with icicles and birds ($21.95), egg-shaped tree ornaments with birds (8.95), and simple snowflake ornaments ($2.95 to $7.95) reminiscent of some pieces from the "Life in the Gardens: Frabel Glass at Phipps" exhibit.

For kids and playful adults, check out the board games ($25.95) that are spinoffs of Monopoly: Earth-opoly, Bug-opoly, Bird-opoly and Garden-opoly. The games play on the Monopoly names; for instance, on the Earth-opoly board, "Go Green" and "Glistening Glaciers" squares replace "Go" and "Marvin Gardens."

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

Every holiday season, the gift shop at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside triples in size.

The shop represents more than 170 artists, whose creations are guaranteed to surprise someone on your gift list. A wool and angora felted wool hat ($50), hand-knit by North Hill artist Barbara Hoberman, provides warmth and a bit of cosmopolitan dash. She stocks up on angora whenever she visits her native Argentina.

A Pierogi Pillow ($20) by David Watts looks good enough to eat. Artist Sandy Trimble creates whimsical wool hand puppets ($50) that also can be used to cover bottles of wine.

Pittsburgh Glass Center

The Pittsburgh Glass Center in Friendship has a unique solid-glass cupcake ($28), complete with different colors of icing, including chocolate, and sprinkles -- and it doesn't have any calories. It does have a hole for a candle that you can light every year to mark a special occasion.

The glass center also has hand-blown ornaments from candy canes to bulbs. The candy canes are made from rods of glass and have layers of colored and clear glass. Ornaments start at $25.

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

At the zoo's gift shops, check out the recycled burlap tote bags ($68.99), which are made in Guatemala out of coffee bags. You can use the bag as a giant purse, an overnight bag, a diaper bag or many other possibilities. If your gift recipient likes the look of African art, try the vases -- made out of clay and straw in Kenya -- starting at $24.99.

For kids, consider the many stuffed animals ($9.99 to $29.99) available, including tigers, rhinos, apes and more. The manufacturers of the stuffed animals -- including SOS (Save Our Space) -- send some proceeds from the purchases to environmental causes, zoo officials say.

Society for Contemporary Craft

The Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District has a gift shop that features decorative and functional items by local, national and international artists, including ceramics, furniture, wall hangings and jewelry.

A silver oak-leaf bench by Andrew Jacobs ($3,200) would look good in a loft setting or as a garden muse. Rhode Island artist Boris Bally recycles directional road signs and makes light-switch plates ($44) and "Pentatrays" ($84).

Theater lobbies

Turn intermission into a quick shopping trip. Lobby displays at City Theatre in the South Side and at the Pittsburgh Public Theater's home at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown, offer company-emblazoned T-shirts and mugs as well as show posters, published scripts and CDs related to recent and upcoming shows.

Pittsburgh Public Theater has signed copies of "The Chief" ($18), also known as the Art Rooney play, and Thomas Schumacher's book for children, "How Does the Show Go On?" ($20).

City Theatre has a nice selection of Leroy Pettis prints ($15) of local landmarks and a ticket journal ($16) for scrapbooking tickets and other souvenirs of memorable performances.

Westmoreland Museum of American Art

The Greensburg museum's American Marketplace store features items created by American artists, many of them local or regional.

The shop offers bags made from recycled banners that were displayed in the museum parking lot to herald its various exhibits. Produced by Florida-based RetroActif, the bags ($15 to $60) come in four sizes: large and small messenger styles, open tote and travel wallet.

To fill that bag, consider the Westmoreland's art cube puzzle ($9), which, through clever manipulation similar to that of the Rubik's Cube, reveals images of nine works also from the museum collection.

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