Holiday shopping lists tend to be as unique as the friends and family members inscribed on them. Your mom, who treasures local artisan-made gifts. Your uncle, who collects rare box sets of bluegrass music. Your best friend, ever hung-up on designer labels. Out-of-staters who pine for anything “Kentucky.”
When all you want for Christmas is the perfect present for everyone on your list, it’s time to shop strategically.
Enjoy the 18-foot Christmas tree trimmed with artist-made ornaments and then browse among thousands of potential gifts created by 700 artists at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea: woven, crocheted, and knitted scarves; sewn, felted, and stitched hats and shawls; jewelry; uniquely shaped serving dishes, teapots, and mixing bowls; Kentucky-made soaps and lotions; fine cookbooks and specialty foods.
Information specialist Gwen Heffner recently took gifts from the Center on a vacation to Scotland —soaps, bourbon-smoked salt and pepper, and artisan magnets, including one made by Berea craftsman Ken Gastineau.
“I wanted to leave beautiful, handmade works promoting Kentucky, and the people were blown away by them,” she says. “The best thing about these gifts, besides their beauty and uniqueness, was that they were small and easily packed for travel.”
Gifts for foodies from the Center, which is served by Blue Grass Energy Cooperative, include these made-in-Kentucky goodies: Gethsemani Farms Bourbon Fruitcakes, Ruth Hunt and Woodford Reserve bourbon balls, and Evan Williams Bourbon Apple Butter. For the little ones on your list, the Center has everything from wooden cars and trucks and small train sets to baby rattles, whistles, and fabric clutch balls. For bibliophiles, there are hand-bound, printed books, and coffee table books; for music fans, selections by nearly 200 Kentucky musicians.
The gift shops at Kentucky State Parks are wonderful places to find Kentucky Crafted art pieces, such as hand-woven baskets, ceramics, and Yardbirds—those whimsical creatures made from a hodgepodge of scrap metal: car and bicycle parts, garden and farm implements, even mufflers.
At the gift shop at Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park, served by Fleming-Mason Energy Cooperative, gift shop manager Jean Dillon suggests beautiful wooden bangle bracelets made with old tobacco sticks by Arv Allen of Morehead, and Kentucky Tobacco Shirts created by Roger and Kathy Cook of Bowling Green.
“These are hand-dyed using cured tobacco leaves,” Dillon says. “This process takes about three weeks to ensure just the right color.”
Blue Licks is among several state parks known for an excellent inventory of unique, handcrafted gift items, like coal figures (animals, moonshiners, and others) made in Stearns from Kentucky coal. These include the gift shops at My Old Kentucky Home, Rough River Dam, and Cumberland Falls, and Waveland State Historic Site.
Rockin’ around the Christmas tree
There is a lively holiday vibe at Simpsonville’s Outlet Shoppes of the Bluegrass, served by Shelby Energy Cooperative, especially with the recent addition of even more shops and eateries with its Phase II opening.
Launched in August 2014, Kentucky’s only designer outlet shopping center now has more than 100 venues, including Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th, Nike, H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch, Express, Brooks Brothers, Bose, Ghirardelli Chocolate, Little Italy, and sit-down restaurants Johnny Rockets and Taqueria Tsunami.
The massive Christmas tree, holding court near Coach and Michael Kors, twinkles with lights, and more holiday fun and activities are geared to children.
City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Shop Owensboro’s arts venues for gifts found in very few shops across the state.
Birdhouses by local woodworker Wayne Naylor, hand-woven wine baskets by Janice Tomblinson of Ohio County—perfect for picnics and tailgate parties—and framed nature/bird photos from local photographer Willie Powell are among the possibilities at the Owensboro Museum of Science and History.
At the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art’s Regional Art Market, choose among blown-glass pieces by Brook Forrest White Jr., an Owensboro native and founder of Flame Run Studio in Louisville, or paintings by noted artist Jim Cantrell of Bardstown.
From the International Bluegrass Music Museum store comes The Bluegrass Hall of Fame Inductee Biography book by Fred Bartenstein and Gary Reid, a must-have for any aficionado of bluegrass music, and rare music box sets from bluegrass legends Bill Monroe, Jim & Jesse, Mac Wiseman, and others.
The Western Kentucky Botanical Garden has but one holiday offering—a flowering plant such as an amaryllis with a choice of three personalized messages to accompany it—but it makes a perfect gift for party hosts or for anyone who loves a dash of living color in wintertime.
Make your own gifts
Homemade gifts never go out of style. With MAKE, Paducah artist Kijsa Housman has created a light-filled studio in a historic building in her hometown’s downtown, a place where all ages can create, play, paint, and design.
“You can paint on original 100-year-old wood salvaged from this very building during renovation, whimsical seasonal items, fine art block cuttings, kids’ wiggly dinosaurs, vintage paint-by-numbers, and much more,” says Housman, who has curated scads of surfaces for all ages and skill levels.
The studio offers workshops and classes year-round that have specific techniques or creative lessons, but anyone can walk in and paint to their heart’s content, choosing a surface and using MAKE’s Art Bar.
Fill your shopping list here
Blue Licks Battlefield State Park
10299 Maysville Road, Carlisle, (859) 289-5507.
The gift shop’s best-selling jewelry is made by Connie Martin of Versailles, who visits several times a year for a jewelry trunk show. Martin will be in the gift shop lobby December 12–13 with a large selection of one-of-a-kind pieces.
Fort Thomas Antiques & Design Center
90 Alexandria Pike, Fort Thomas, (859) 441-2015.
Hours: 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri.; 9 a.m.–10 p.m. Wed. (with live music); 9 a.m.–midnight Sat. (with live music); 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun. Santa Saturday takes place 10 a.m.–2 p.m. November 28 and December 5, 12, and 19. Free photos of kids of all ages with Santa will be instantly e-mailed to the parent.
International Bluegrass Music Museum
117 Daviess Street, Owensboro, (270) 926-7891.
Hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat.; 1–4 p.m. Sun. Admission: $5 adults, seniors; $2 students; free for kids under 6.
Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea
200 Artisan Way, Berea, (859) 985-5448.
Hours: 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily. The Artisan Café is open 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. daily; artisan demonstrations 10:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Musical performances of holiday music 11 a.m.–2 p.m. December 5, 12, and 19.
628 Broadway, Paducah; (270) 201-2474.
Hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wed.–Fri.; 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sat. On Saturday, December 5—the day of Paducah’s Christmas parade—MAKE will hold its Kids Christmas Parade & Ornament Spectacular. The fun begins at 3:30 p.m. and registration is highly recommended.
Owensboro Museum of Science and History
122 E. 2nd Street, Owensboro, (270) 687-2732. Hours: 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; 1–5 p.m. Sun. Admission: $3 per person; free for children ages 2 and under.
Owensboro Museum of Fine Art
901 Frederica St., Owensboro, (270) 685-3181.
Hours: 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Tues.–Thurs.; 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Fri.; 1–4 p.m. Sat. and Sun. Voluntary admission: $2 adults; $1 children under 13.
The Outlet Shoppes of the Bluegrass
1155 Buck Creek Road, Simpsonville, (502) 722-5558. Hours: 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat.; 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Sun. Holiday hours vary.
Western Kentucky Botanical Garden
25 Carter Road, Owensboro, (270) 852-8925. Hours: March–November 14, 9 a.m.–3 p.m. daily; November 15–February, Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–3 p.m. Admission: $5 adult; $3 seniors; $1 students and youth.
Kathy Witt from December 2015 Issue