Give the gift of art

Your heart starts pounding. You have a sense of impending dread. A wave of nausea takes over and you begin to feel lightheaded.

The thought of buying a special gift for a special someone sends you into a tailspin.

Put those anxiety-inducing thoughts aside.

Art often is thought of as the niche of the rich and famous. But local gallery owners point out that it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and art can be more than what you might think.

“I try to expand people’s ideas of what art is,” said Kristina Beytien, owner of Upcycle Dubuque.

At the Main Street gallery, shoppers will find everything from wall art and sculptures to jewelry and stone candles.

Connie Twining, co-owner of Outside the Lines Gallery in Dubuque and Galena, Ill., says to start by thinking of the person you’re buying for. Consider their favorite colors, the style of home they live in and a few of their interests. You’ll be on your way to discovering that buying art isn’t as frightening an exercise as you might think, and you may be surprised at the scope of what art can be.

A one-of-a-kind coffee mug that draws attention at the office or a scarf screen printed with an artist’s photographic work might be the perfect art gift for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day.

“Buying original art or craft doesn’t need to be off-putting or intimidating,” Twining said. “Local shopkeepers are knowledgeable about what they carry and are more than happy to answer questions and offer suggestions.”

Twining usually steers male customers buying for wives or girlfriends towards jewelry.

“When I ask questions, some men know all the answers. Some of them know none of the answers. But jewelry is easy.”

Both Upcycle Dubuque and Outside the Lines carry pieces of handcrafted jewelry from several local artists. Handmade wooden boxes also found at both stores would make the perfect vessel for presentation. Outside the Lines also has puzzle boxes small enough to perfectly nestle a jewelry piece, making opening the gift a fun challenge.

When buying a two-dimensional piece of art, Twining suggests adding a special touch by fitting it into a store bought frame, which can go a long way towards keeping costs down. She also says splurging on a piece of museum glass will be worth it to protect your purchase.

Upcycle Dubuque has a treasure trove of raw material. Local thrift stores can also be a good place to search for frames.

“Buyers can also spray paint frames or add their own artistic details to them,” Beytien said.

If you are new to shopping for art, Twining suggests starting with something unobtrusive.

“Think small. Something that can be put on a desk or a shelf.”

When it comes to buying a gift for a wedding or anniversary, Twining says don’t be afraid to skip the registry suggestions.

“Sometimes checking what’s on it can be a great starting point,” she said. “It will tell you what they need. Then, the buyer can consider, for example, a handcrafted platter instead of the one on the list.”

Keeping some other possible gift recipients in mind, Twining suggested buying for longevity when purchasing for a young child or teen. A piece of art given now will evoke happy memories 50 years from now if the gift is sturdy and long-lasting to withstand the passage of time.

When buying a gift from a group of people, Twining says not to let too many cooks spoil the pot.

“Don’t get too many opinions on the gift. Everyone has different tastes and ideas on what makes the perfect gift.”

Instead, get a good general idea and then go with your instinct.

And don’t discount the idea of taking an art class to create your own masterpiece gift. When Upcycle Dubuque’s expansion is completed by the end of 2019, Beytien plans on offering classes taught by local artists.

Beytien and Twining agree that buying local is mindful spending that contributes to the local art community and invigorates the local economy.

Even more than that, said Beytien, buying art is not as simple as making a purchase and giving it as a gift.

“It’s as much about the person buying it as it is about the person who made it. It’s about sharing the artist’s story and giving them the opportunity to tell another one.”

Michelle London is a freelance writer from Dubuque.

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