Eight Stars a-Shopping

December 2, 2013 |

The Holiday Everything Guide

What will your true love give to you in this month of holiday everything? These suggestions from local taste makers help expand definitions of holiday and get everyone in the zone.

Here’s the deal: Because style is so individual, what matters most in holiday gifting is staying mindful of your own flair, at the same time thinking outside the box for that special something.

So it is with these eight local notables from a long list who have climbed into the ranks of Tucson taste makers without trying. It takes a little digging to unearth treasures, but these masters of local style have done the hard work for us, curating a delectable collection of good stuff that goes to the edge of what’s on fire now. Because savoring tradition is one of the best gifts to give this season, our taste makers also share tidbits about creating their own traditions and personal sense of holiday meaning.

From locally-distilled whiskey to hand-sewn leather bags, you can totally feel the love that went into this tasty list. It will be hard to decide which you prefer — the joy of starting a tradition, receiving a locally-sourced curio, or giving one of these fabulous finds.

Anne-Marie Russell

Anne-Marie Russell
Executive Director, Museum of Contemporary Art-Tucson

Russell’s list is plucked from a mix of high style sleek to lushly traditional.

  • Russell likes gifts that support local endeavors and also have value year-round – thus she suggests a membership to Tucson Community Supported Agriculture (TucsonCSA.org) or any of our local museums.
  • Desert-folk rocker Howe Gelb (HoweGelb.com) has just released “The Coincidentalist” album, and Russell recommends a vinyl version of this low-key indie Americana classic. Order it from Gelb’s website.
  •  Shelve the sangria….for winter imbibing, Russell suggests that you shake up the season’s alchemy with a Tucson-distilled Whiskey del Bac from Hamilton Distillery (HamiltonDistillers.com). It seems everyone is talking about the latest project of Arroyo Design furniture maker Stephen Paul, who is crafting mesquite-smoked whiskey and un-aged raw whiskey from his micro-distillery on North Hoff Avenue.  The whiskey will be offered soon at downtown hot spots, so the suggestion is to get on the website’s mailing list to learn about availability before the holidays.
  • Perfect Picks from MOCA: If pressed for a MOCA gift shop (MOCA-Tucson.com) gem she suggests a piece of Nick Tranmer’s celadon pottery, Dave Sayre artist t-shirts, Nicki Adler jewelry and Alexander Girard dolls. Call the museum if you want a heads up on what’s in stock at the gift shop before you visit (520) 624-5019.

Old Timey Traditions to Treasure
Growing up, holidays for Russell were spent in the woods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. But now she associates this time of the year with the desert, and most of the fun and pleasure revolves around cooking and eating: “My fiancé and I have a new holiday tradition that we’ve established over the last few years. We make a country pate with pork shoulder and chicken thigh, tons of garlic, sage and thyme. We bought a hand-turn meat grinder at a junk store and we make enough to give to all of our favorite people… our favorite vegans get wine.” Playing pool at The District also is part of Russell’s tradition, as is celebrating the solstice by pulling out the telescope for what she calls “perspective and grandeur.” 

Patricia Schwabe

Patricia Schwabe
Owner, Penca

The holiday visions that dance in Patricia Schwabe’s head are definitely of the family kind – rich with tradition and filled with the spice of local and handmade goods.

  • Like other taste makers, Schwabe heads to Bon, MAST and MOCA for favorite gifting. But she also recommends University Avenue’s Ooo! Outside of Ordinary (OooOutsideofOrdinary.com) for its eclectic and stylish collection of gifts, fashion, home décor and jewelry.
  • If you have not shopped at the utilitarian and awesome Too Strong (TooStrongUSA.com), Schwabe says you should. The guys with the sewing studio downtown on South Sixth Avenue make jeans, shirts and jackets sourced with Pima cotton and Arizona copper rivets, but Schwabe’s most favorite item is the Too Strong chunky leather messenger bag.
  • Perfect Pick from Penca: Since food is a gift that always delights, Penca (PencaRestaurante.com) creates a chef’s dinner as a holiday food gift above-the-ordinary, with good wishes folded into every course.

Old Timey Traditions to Treasure
With five children, Schwabe and her husband Ron still follow the tradition of a family shopping night the evening before Christmas Eve: “Each kid suggests something they would like to receive for Christmas… the others have to listen! Later we divide ourselves in groups. It’s big yet fun logistics. When we get home, each kids gets a chance to wrap their gifts and each year they look forward to surprising each other.” And of course they cook, affirms Schwabe, who also recommends families hear the Boys Chorus at Sabino Canyon. “My mom and I try to cook everything possible, from Bacalao a la Vizcaina, bunuelos, tamales de mole and capirotada (Mexican bread pudding, kind of).  We then celebrate Christmas Eve, following my Mexican tradition and on Christmas Day.”

Kristen E. Nelson. Photo: Sarah Dalby.

Kristen E. Nelson
Executive Director, Casa Libre en la Solana

This Tucson poetess and Casa Libre founder channels her literati instincts into a few suggestions for the book lovers among us. 

  • At least one of Nelson’s picks may be hard to come by, but she suggests anyone searching for rare, out-of-print books head to The Book Stop (BookStopTucson.com) or Bookman’s (Bookmans.com). Nelson’s spent years hunting for an affordable copy of Sophie Calle’s “Exquisite Pain.”
  • To anyone who likes to read, Nelson recommends “Troubling the Line,” a transgender and genderqueer poetry anthology co-edited by TC Tolbert, and “The Sin Eater,” a short story collection by Elizabeth Frankie Rollins. Both of these books should grace everyone’s bookshelves and you can find copies at Antigone Books (AntigoneBooks.com).
  • Because Casa Libre, CasaLibre.org, is on Fourth Avenue, Nelson says she is surrounded by the best local places to find unique holiday gifts. Beyond longing for a bottle of Stephen Paul’s mesquite-smoked Whiskey Del Bac  her favorite shop these days is Pop-Cycle (PopCycleShop.com), with its assortment of recycled artwork from local artists. Nelson particularly likes the vintage leather cuffs they carry and the succulents planted in dinosaur toys.

Old Timey Traditions to Treasure
This is the first time in about a decade Nelson will be in Tucson for the winter holidays, and she’s looking forward to spending time with her partner and some good friends to start new Tucson traditions: “Perhaps a trip to the trampoline park Get Air (GetAirTucson.com), sitting on the beautiful new outdoor patio at Che’s Lounge (ChesLounge.com) on a Sunday and listening to their acoustic musicians, or hiking Pima Canyon early in the morning on New Year’s Day.” Nelson also is looking forward to spoiling her brand new honorary niece, Vivian Charlotte Saterstrom, will piles and piles of presents. Don’t tell, but Vivian will be getting books, clothes and toy trains.

Ben Johnson
Filmmaker and Tohono Chul Park’s Curator of Exhibitions

Ben Johnson is just as adept at selecting gifts as he is at curating the Tohono Chul’s exhibitions. His deep appreciation for nature mixes happily with modern urban style in these selections.

  • A favorite go-to gift haunt is the Native Seeds SEARCH (NativeSeeds.org) retail store on Campbell Avenue, with its wonderful selection of beans, teas and chiles as well as artisan crafts by native peoples of the region. This time of year is great to think about soups and chili, and in that direction, during a recent visit Johnson sampled the shop’s chiltepin water, which he recommends.
  • Sarnoff Art Supply (SarnoffArt.com) and Summit Hut (SummitHut.com) are two additional shops for spot-on local gifting. Johnson is eying Sarnoff’s drawing pens and sketchbooks, while the day packs at Summit Hut also have caught his eye.
  • Perfect Pick from Tohono Chul (TohonoChulPark.org): The new Small Works Exhibition features works by over 130 local artists, all smaller than 12 inches in size and less than $250. Stepping outside of Tohono Chul Park, Johnson is a huge fan of the museum shop at the Tucson Museum of Art (TucsonMuseumofArt.org) and its selection of artwork and crafts by local artists.

Old Timey Traditions to Treasure
Although Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul is a favorite tradition, Johnson and his wife Frankie also make a point of spending the holidays outdoors, hiking: “When we lived on the East Coast that always meant a shivery huddled hike under grey skies, but we were dedicated! Since moving to Tucson, it’s been ever more our calling to go for as many hikes and picnics as we can manage during the holiday season. Hiking up into the Tucson Mountains or Santa Catalinas, and finding a rocky outcropping with a vista to have a picnic lunch while talking over our year is a perfect way to celebrate.”

Patricia Katchur. photo: Valerie Gallowa

Patricia Katchur
Proprietress, Yikes Toys & Gift-O-Rama

As expected, the Yikes proprietress’ brand of gifting runs on the curious side, and Tucson certainly offers her a banquet of the unusual for her shopping.

  • Katchur encountered an intriguing, mysterious animal treasure last year from Broadway Village’s Bon Boutique (Bon-Boutique.com) and has been dreaming of it ever since. Not necessarily a holiday decoration, the Wolf Head ornament can grace a corner or shelf year-round as an object of conversation. Of course, everything at Bon is exquisitely beautiful for gifting, says Katchur.
  • Katchur also recommends a visit to Etherton Gallery (EthertonGallery.com) for amazing works of art. Her favorites: Mayme Kratz (of Phoenix) or Kate Breakey (of Tucson)
  • Memberships to Loft Cinema (LoftCinema.com), MOCA or Tucson Museum of Art also make much appreciated gifts.
  • Perfect Picks from Yikes (YikesToys.com): For some endearing, pop culture gifting, the shop offers hand-tooled and painted wallets by Tucson artisan Allegiant Brand Leather/Tony Pickup. There’s also the super-cute and French Neko Wood Pull Along Toy, Watercolor Collages by Tucson artist Valerie Galloway, and Vegetable Candy (in a tin, in carrot, green bean and corn flavors) for stocking stuffers.

Old Timey Traditions to Treasure
Hanging out with her family of friends is Katchur’s most treasured tradition. “Friends are the best gift in the world, and I am so lucky to have such wonderful and embracing beings in my life. My friend Sharon Holnback invites me every season to her Triangle L Ranch in Oracle. It is wintery and cold, and the main house is heated by an old, adobe fireplace. We play Yahtzee and Scrabble; tell tall tales and true tales; and merry-make among our group of oddball friends. I stay for a few days and commune in the high desert. A fantastic way to end the year and kick start the new one.”

Erin Cox

Erin Cox
Master seamstress, Southwestern Belle Alterations and Design

Re-purpose, restore is the mantra of Tucson seamstress Erin Cox, formerly of Preen and now proprietress of her own alterations shop. Food is on her mind for memorable, one-of-a-kind gifting.

  • With so many delicious restaurants popping up all over downtown, Cox believes anyone (including herself) would be thrilled to receive a gift certificate to any of these establishments. New favorites at the moment are Proper (ProperTucson.com), Reilly’s (ReillyPizza.com), and Penca (PencaRestaurante.com), although her long-standing darlings are Little Poca Cosa (LittlePocaCosa.com) and 47 Scott (47Scott.com).
  • One gift that that she never tires of is a good candle, and Cox recommends the naturally-scented, 100 percent vegetable wax candles made by Izola and found at MAST (iLoveMAST.com)
  • Vintage-loving Cox also recommends a trip to Desert Vintage (ShopDesertVintage.com), particularly to source a lovely selection of Native American jewelry. Cox recommends the collection of Fred Harvey sterling and turquoise cuffs at the Fourth Avenue shop.
  • Perfect Picks from Southwestern Belle (Facebook.com/SouthwesternBelle76): If a friend has out-dated garments that deserve remaking into new fashion, Cox is offering gift certificates. For ornaments or bookcase baubles, Cox also hand-beads old horseshoes with Czech and vintage glass, mixed with sterling and African beads. Call (520) 955-3719 for an appointment.

Old Timey Tradition to Treasure
Erin’s holiday ritual involves preparing three or more dishes that she and her husband have never cooked before. “We wake up in the morning and start prepping immediately. Once the dishes have been completed we graze throughout the evening while opening up a gift or two in between courses. Last year’s dinner was perfectly roasted lamb ribs with rosemary, French mussel bisque with lavender baguette, and an asparagus salad.”

Joe Pagac, right.
Photo: Wendy Van Leuveren

Joe Pagac
Muralist, portrait and performance artist

Much acclaimed muralist Joe Pagac shows fans a series of personas via his large-scale art – it’s  no wonder that there’s a bit of freestyle funk and local love thrown into his holiday gift-giving.

  • For one-of-a-kind booty Pagac says there is great gift fodder in Fourth Avenue’s Pop-Cycle. “My friend Ashley recently gave me a glittered-up photo of a child holding a chicken and smoking a cigarette mounted on a tiny cabinet door. Perfect!”
  • Although not a man who craves many material things (Pagac says he has all the fur pillows he needs), Pagac has had his eye on a “Keep Tucson Shitty” shirt for a while now. You may have heard of the KTS movement (with origins of the phrase traced per Tucson Weekly reporting to 1990s graffiti in the Fourth Avenue tunnel.) Local artist Donovan White (Facebook.com/Donovan.White.75) has most recently pressed the phrase on oh-so-Tucson t-shirts he sells around town and direct from his Facebook page.

Old Timey Traditions to Treasure
You’ll often chance upon a Pagac mural by just wandering downtown, and a similar meander is what Pagac says is his holiday tradition: “I really enjoy filling a thermos with spiked apple cider and wandering Winterhaven, or running it when they do the organized runs through it. I also always ‘plant’ my dead tree in an empty lot at the end of the season. A lone pine really spices things up when driving around town. More people should do this.”

Gabriel Ayala

Gabriel Ayala

This is the time of year when wish lists magically appear. If there’s a Kris Kringle out there, Native American Artist-of-the -Year and local guitarist Gabriel Ayala wants you to buy him a saxophone. In return he has some suggestions for your holiday gifting.

  • Finding worthwhile holiday gifts is easy, says Ayala, and you skip the malls and give Fourth Avenue love instead. Ayala, without wanting to single out one shop, feels the avenue is the city’s best option for holiday bazaar in terms of artisan eats, home decor and vintage threads. You’ll find your perfect functional pieces of art and worthy gift options here, where Ayala shops often: “I’ve bought small, random home decor inexpensively. Nothing like supporting our own entrepreneurs…buy local and make sure our community is thriving.”
  • Perfect Pick from Gabriel Ayala: Ayala (AyalaGuitarist.com) is offering a boxed gift set of five CDs at a special discount. His “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was released in 2007 and can be purchased via the website or directly through Ayala (ayalaguitarist@yahoo.com).

Old Timey Traditions to Treasure
If you’re looking to stroll among thousands of holiday lights with your hot cocoa and sugar cookie, Tohono Chul Park offers one of Ayala’s favorite traditions. Holiday Nights at the Park are held the weekends of Dec. 6-7 and Dec. 13-14, from 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Ayala loves the holiday season for the mood that it puts people in: “I’m very fortunate to perform at Tohono Chul Park for the past 5 years now, and this year I’ll be performing there on Dec. 6 and 7. Seems like people just tend to be a little nicer around the holidays ‘cause of the holiday spirit.”




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