With a background in museum and gallery retailing I have spent years visiting and assessing museum shops, it is a passion of mine.
Museum and gallery shops are always a source of the unexpected and unusual, their retail buyers are forced to look in the strangest places to find goods which support the institution’s collections and exhibitions. Forget the unimaginative chain stores and check out your local museum shop, where not only are you bound to find the curious and the clever, your purchase will also help support the work of the parent museum.
In our part of South London we are lucky to have three internationally renowned and exemplary museums right on our doorsteps and each with a very fine shop attached. Remember with any museum, whether it charges an entrance fee or not, you can always ask to visit just the shop.
In the South London Gallery’s free current installation; Too Much Night Again, Los Angeles artist Pae White explores a period of her own prolonged insomnia. Taunt black and red threads criss-cross the gallery space, like a 3D version of the nail and silk pictures from the 1970’s. As you pass beneath, looming over you changing abstract patterns weave across the room, strung-out strands striking the walls and becoming tangible words.
The shop at the South London Gallery is packed with beautiful contemporary art books, browsers are bound to buy, tempted by the well curated collection. It is a great resource for art magazines. I spotted locally born, Turner prize-winner and this year’s British representative at the Venice Biennale, Jeremy Deller, gracing the cover of the current Fantastic Man Magazine. Pick up a copy and enjoy it over a coffee in the SLG’s wonderful café, NO67. Where, by the way, the dinner menu is sensational.
The SLG Shop has a selection of out of the ordinary and stylish gifts. With an insatiable appetite for the quirky I was drawn towards a sublimely silly, but adorable, reproduction of an 18th French Paper Doll Set. Coiffures Au Choix (£3.50) has a mannequin bust complete with 12 wigs. But why should the mannequin have all the fun? I predict much mirth and merriment with a bottle of \Merlot and some friends’ photos.
At the cash register I could not resist adding a bar of extremely pretty Dolfin Pink Peppercorn Belgium Chocolate (£2.70) to my David Austen, Kiss Me Stupid, Bag (£10).
If you are decorating, treat yourself to a limited edition print by one of the artists who has shown at the SLG.
Horniman Museum and Gardens is quite literally a jewel in our crown, perched where it is high up on a hill with fabulous views across London. It is a fantastic family day out, there is so much to explore. The museum has fascinated me since I was a child, when I was taken on regular school trips, in fact I drew the walrus so many times I now think of him as a family member.
The shop has changed from back in the day when wardens sold a few postcards and leather bookmarks, now a carefully considered collection of desirable products seek to inspire as much as the wonderful artefacts and the diverse and varied, natural world which surrounds them. There are items for the home and garden as well as a great selection of activities for children, which reflect the museum’s work and collections.
I was hooked by a superb Fish Soap On A Rope (£10) and made a bee-line for the splendid Bee Kitchen Textile Range by Sophie Allport, particularly an ever-hard-to-find Tea Cosy (£12) and all important double Oven Mitts (£15). The shop also sells Sophie Allport bee ceramics, including some rather fine mugs (£12), which I can perfectly imagine on a pitch pine kitchen table with the Sunday papers.
As you would imagine with the surrounding gardens, the shop caters well for gardeners with lots of practical gifts including handy folding Pocket Secateurs (£13.50) and some wonderfully retro dotty Gardening Gloves complete with Hand Cream (£10).
The shop truly is a great resource for gifts for children, important to remember with the endless cycle of children’s parties. I bought a gorgeous ‘Lets Go Fly A Kite’, Kite Kit (£4.25) for my young neighbours, Bea and Charlotte, to fly on the Rye this weekend.
A trip to Dulwich Picture Gallery, Britain’s oldest public gallery (‘the most beautiful small art gallery in the word’ – the Telegraph) has always been an almost otherworldly experience for me, despite the hundreds of visits I have made, each time I enter my breath is taken away, I can scarcely believe this remarkable place exists.
I still stand in surprised silence in the sanctity and sanctuary of architect Soane’s central mausoleum, contemplating the juxtaposition of the peacefully interred benefactors – Bourgeois and Desenfans – and the crowds of visitors who wonder at the collection they helped form.
The shop at Dulwich Picture Gallery houses a collection of products worthy of this prestigious and prominent building.
I absolutely love the facsimile reprint from 1873; Beauty; What It Is And How To Retain It, with the spectacular by-line of ‘by A Lady’ (£7.95). In a similar vein the Collector’s Library edition of The Pickwick Papers (£9.99) would make a handsome, and significant addition, to any bookcase; the eponymous protagonist of Dickens’ work retired to Dulwich ‘one of the most pleasant spots near London.’
A purchase of any one of the striking Peckham-based Just Trade Jewellery creations will not only help the Dulwich Picture Gallery, it will also help the women of a fair-trade project in Lima, Peru. I was particularly enamoured with a Cristabel Glass Bauble Bracelet (£60). A perfect accessory for a summer soirée There is also a range of handmade jewellery from Carrie Elspeth in bright summery colours and a fantastic floral, and very reasonable, ceramic range from Stockwell ceramics.
I bought some delightful Book Plates (£4.99) by wonderful design company Mac and Ninny, whose graphic style I fell in love with, and deliciously presented Rare Tea Company Jasmine Silver Tip Tea (£7.50). A map of The Remarkable Trees Of Dulwich (£3.95), which will make interesting study, and a Rabitos Royale Chocolate Fig (£1) for which I will going back today to buy more as it was possibly one of the tastiest things I have tasted. The gallery, of course, has a superb collection of Postcards, which I buy in bulk and keep in the desk drawer as ‘Thank Yous’ or ‘RSVPs’.
Lawrence’s monthly shopping column appears in the SE Magazines group of magazines, this month there is a round up of the best local museum products for kids.