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Museum-quality shopping Gifts: Tucked away amid the priceless art and artifacts in the area's many museums are gift shops with something affordable for just about everyone. The Museums Shop-Around makes it easy.


Tired of Christmas shopping in the same old stores year after year after year? Searching for something a little different this year? Perhaps Christmas shopping over the Internet just doesn't feel festive enough?

Maybe you like to actually touch gifts before laying out any hard-earned cash for them, so catalog shopping is also out. Or perhaps you dabble in all of the above but still haven't found anything unique for that special someone.

There is another way.

Get thee to a museum. They are available all year long, of course, but this time of year, museum shops can be treasure troves of Christmas gifts. Anyway, visiting a museum has got to be a much more educational experience than a trip to the local mall or flipping through a catalog.

This weekend's Museums Shop-Around will make it all easier.

Merchandise from 14 museums and attractions will be on display all in one place - the Evergreen Carriage House, 4545 N. Charles St. in North Baltimore.

The museums participating are: American Visionary Arts Museum, Babe Ruth Museum, Baltimore Maritime Museum, Baltimore Zoo, B&O; Railroad Museum, Calvert Marine Museum, Evergreen House, Hampton Mansion, Homewood House Museum, Maryland Historical Society, Montgomery County Historical Society, National Aquarium, St. Mary's City Commission and U.S. Capitol Historical Society.

"The concept of 'museums shop-arounds' is not new, but it is brand-new in Baltimore," says Barbara Gamse, manager of the museum shop at the Maryland Historical Society. Gamse mentioned the concept to Neil Schwartz, manager of the shop at the Baltimore Zoo, and the two decided it was time to bring the idea to Baltimore.

"We probably started discussion in August," she says. "We wondered if we could pull it off. But we decided that we could do it this year. Every one of us shared equally in the planning and equally in the work," she says.

The Museums Shop-Around will be held this Saturday and Sunday. There will be a preview party tomorrow. Admission to the preview party is $10 and includes a 10 percent discount.

Half the fun of museum shopping is actually going to the museums, especially if they aren't featured in the Shop-Around.

The Smithsonian is but a short drive or train ride away. The Smithsonian museums are actually 14 museums in Washington (and two in New York), but one of the most popular is the Air and Space Museum in the nation's capital.

With John Glenn recently making his heralded return trip to space, interest in space is high. That makes the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum as good as it gets for gifts, particularly for young people.

There's an "Apollo Saturn V Rocket" that costs $100. It's a plastic model kit, but judging by the size, make sure you have plenty of room for the builder to spread out while putting it together.

However, there are plenty of unique stocking stuffers. There's the $12 "Flying Bird," which is powered by a replaceable rubber band. For slightly more money, there is the model rocket starter kit for $23.99.

And there's more to do than shop. The museum is still featuring an exhibit on the "Star Wars" mythology and its usual array of planes and spaceships.

Closer to home, there are gifts for every size wallet at the Maryland Historical Society.

There are $15 silver-plated candelabras, $6 glistening pink glass tree ornaments, themed neckties (jazz, Baltimore scenes, cooking) for $30, a drop-leaf cherry table for $275, a decoupage cigar ash tray for $70, and a decoupage chest and mirror for $2,600.

The Baltimore Museum of Art is featuring an exhibit on "Degas and the Little Dancer," and there are nice exhibition posters for $12 and $25, which would be suitable for framing. There are cute rag dolls in all hues for $11.95, perfect for little girls and not so little girls.

Small, colorful ring boxes will run you $4.50, while larger boxes cost $15. All of the museums visited have books for sale, usually for both adults and children, including "Henri Matisse Art for Children" for $7.95.

At the Walters Art Gallery, where "The Invisible Made Visible: Angels of the Vatican" exhibit is on display, there are unique children's coloring books, including a "Japanese Prints" coloring book for $2.95 and the "Ancient Near East" coloring book for $4.95. Other stocking stuffers include a small package of five faux Roman coins for $3.75 and plenty of grown-up jewelry at many different prices.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore has two gift shops.

Vicky Whittier, director of retail at the National Aquarium, says she believes the new Puffkins stuffed animals will be hot this Christmas. They are small, furry, stuffed creatures of different colors that sell for $7.95.

The aquarium also has Beanie Babies in stock that sell from $6.95 to $29.95. Of course, there are T-shirts and other apparel with the National Aquarium logo on it. There are also water timers and water toys.

"I like to call these desk toys," she says. They run from $4.95 to $11.95.

The dolphin and shark cookie jars are always hot items, she says. The tops of the jars tip back and make animal noises. They sell for $29.95.

Admission to the Smithsonian museums is free of charge. The other museums have an entrance fee. Most, but not all, of the other museums will let visitors browse in the gift shop without paying an admission fee, if you choose not to wander around the exhibits.

Speaking of admission fees, museum memberships can be wonderful gifts. Call each museum for the terms of gift memberships, because they vary. Gift memberships to the BMA range from $40 to $75, depending on the type of membership: single, family or senior citizen.


What: Museums Shop-Around

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

jTC Where: Evergreen Carriage House, 4545 N. Charles St.

Tickets: $5

Call: 410-685-3750, Ext. 305

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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