Santa Cruz Style for The Holidays

Support local artisans with our whirlwind guide to uniquely Santa Cruz gift-giving
Nov 23, 2006

By Janet Blaser

Halloween was barely over before the holiday decorations started appearing in most stores--in fact, in many places, plastic pumpkins and fake Christmas trees were side-by-side on the shelves. What's a conscious consumer to do? Patronize these local artisans and share the wealth of their talent with your friends and relatives--a plethora of one-of-a-kind delights are all close by.

At Artisans Gallery (1368 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.423.8183), you'll find a wealth of beautiful handmade items--your biggest problem will be to not buy everything for yourself (ahem). Although not all are made locally, each display includes a card with the artist's name and current hometown, and in some cases, longer descriptions of the evolution of their particular art form. Elegant jewelry, always a favorite, glistens from glass cases--notably Aptos resident Violet Drury's eye-catching Victorian-style earrings and necklaces. Her ultrafeminine designs include tiny freshwater pearls dangling amid semiprecious stones on gold and sterling. If you follow your nose you'll end up at perhaps the most complete display of Bonny Doon Farm body products, an aromatic extravaganza of soaps, lotions, body washes, gardener's salves, candles, massage oils, after-shaves, shampoos and spritzers. These could easily be the quintessential Santa Cruz gift, embodying as they do the essence of our lifestyle here: the ocean, the redwoods, the mountains, the temperate climate. Whether you buy a single bar of lavender soap to tuck into a holiday card, or choose a handful of products to make a special bag of goodies, the recipient will definitely be happy.

Before you leave, do take note of the walls--specifically artist Marie Gabriella's watercolor prints of favorite local spots. West Cliff, Cowell's Beach, the surfer statue--all are beautifully portrayed in vibrant colors, exquisite detail and, best of all, affordable sizes and prices. And I would be sorely remiss if I neglected to mention prints by beloved local artist James Carl Aschbacher, like Cirque de Santa Cruz. This may be the only store that carries these. Hmm, not sure who he is? Check out the mural on the wall of Plaza Lane, the cobblestone alley running between Pacific Avenue and the Cedar Street parking garage, next to Plaza Lane Optometry.

Need a last-minute gift? Run into Pacific Cookie Company (1203 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.429.6905) and your problems will be solved. There's a big selection of adorable gift boxes and tins (check out the "Tower of Yum" and "You Sleigh Me") that you can fill on the spot with your choice of cookies, baked fresh that day, and shipping and online ordering is available, too. This family-owned, home-grown company has been around since 1980 and owners Larry and Shelly Pearson are still as dedicated to making gourmet cookies for all and providing excellent customer service as they were 25-plus years ago.

Just across the street is Eco Goods (1130 Pacific Ave.; 831.429.5758), whose motto of "Good for You, Good for the Environment" is reflected in all the products sold here. Here is also where you'll find No Enemy, a line of locally designed and produced organic cotton clothing. With rich, earthy colors and the softest, yummiest cotton you can imagine, No Enemy offers sweatshirts, tank tops, lightweight sweat pants and T-shirts for men, women and children--and at reasonable prices. Some are plain, and some have subtle, tasteful messages and designs, like "Earth Citizen" and "Small Is Beautiful."

If you've grown bored with those cheapo tapers you get by the dozen, splurge for yourself or a friend and pick up a few Laughing Candles, solid natural beeswax dipped by hand, one at a time, by local artisan Michelle Russi. Available in a variety of sizes and shapes--pillars, pine cones, roses and heart-shapes--and with or without pressed flowers, these candles burn for many hours and smell wonderful to boot.

This is also where you'll find New Native baby products--everything you need to keep your little one happy, safe and comfy. Based in Soquel, New Native was started to provide children and their caregivers with "contact carrying" options, as a means of "contributing to the well-being of the world community, one family at a time." Their most popular product, a sling baby carrier that keeps baby or toddler close to Mom (or Dad or Grandma) comes in a variety of sizes and organic fabrics, and is the perfect gift for the mother-to-be or mother-at-present on your list.

Just off the happily beaten path of Pacific Avenue is the Many Hands Gallery (107 Locust St., Santa Cruz; 831.429.8696), a beloved local mainstay that's just recently reopened a branch downtown. (The main store moved to Capitola, at 520 Bay Ave., some years ago.) A gift from Many Hands--whether it be jewelry, glassware, pottery, textile art--will be appreciated for years to come.

A stone's throw away on the other side of Pacific Avenue is Annieglass (110 Cooper St., Santa Cruz; 831.427.4260), home of the internationally known sculpted glassware that started, yep, right here in our little town. Still based downtown, the sunny little shop is home to an always-impressive array of founder Ann Morhauser's classic designs, now recognized as tableware industry icons, as well as the newest pieces available. Each is signed and dated as an original piece of art, destined to become an heirloom in any household.

On the West Side is the Swift Street Courtyard (402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz), where you can pause from your holiday shopping for an espresso or glass of Chardonnay at Kelly's, and then continue on your merry way. Do check out SFB Silks (831.454.0323), a tiny nook of a store packed full of gorgeous textures and intriguing fabrics. You'll love the silk sachets and scarves, the colorful cotton patchwork tablecloths and felted stuffed animals and balls. And, if you've got a baby on your list, check out SFB's line of embroidered, appliquéd cotton flannel blankets, hats, jumpies and baby-Ts.

In the corner spot next to the parking lot is Studio 5 Art & Design (look for the big red 5), home to more than one overcreative mind. Gallery manager and graphic artist Janet Allinger's bright, colorful and slightly outrageous Airheads of California ("It's a state of mind," she says) designs dominate the entry, with their sassy slogans and animated characters, and are available on original art T-shirts, mugs, ashtrays or prints. Statements like "I was Googled and didn't feel a thing!" and the artist's lament, "He tried to channel the spirit of Monet but all he got was Kinkade," give you an idea of Allinger's humorous take on modern life. Mackerilla Design offers handbags in a myriad of sizes and styles in fabric and vinyl; choose from available stock or custom-order your own. Beautiful and functional, these bags are created by Allinger's twin sister, Janice Serilla. My favorite? Small three-dimensional triangular purses that easily double as a sculpture or conversation piece when placed on the table. And if you've got a really special someone on your list, consider the one-of-a-kind "Maverick's Gun" longboard ($15,000), handmade from local redwood and agave by master shaper Jim Phillips. This is one surfboard you won't take into the water--it's an art piece only, folks, and definitely worth at least a look-see.

There's no excuse and every reason to make a trek to Capitola Village as the holiday season unfolds--and the Craft Gallery (126 San Jose Ave. and 207 Capitola Ave.; 831.475.4466) should be your No. 1 stop. One block from the Esplanade and close enough to see the sunset and feel the ocean breeze, the main store fills the corner of San Jose and Capitola avenues with a brilliant sense of this special place we call home--exactly what the conscientious gift-giver really wants to share. (A smaller store, the Annex, is three doors away.) You could say this is the grandmother of all artist outlets; since 1969, owner Carin Hanna has specialized and sold local handmade items. An artist herself--her tiny felted purses and luscious woven scarves in a rainbow of earth tones are to die for--she's remained true to her vision through thick and thin. Here you'll find familiar favorites like Will Sanford's pottery, subtle gray-white with orchid flowers on rice bowls, mugs, kitchen accessories and serving bowls, and Wild Earth's wide-eyed worms and other assorted animalia, transplanted from their longtime downtown location next to Café Bene. A surprise to me were Mark Ebright's tiny, enchanted "Enchanted Sand Castles," available as candles or electric lights; although I've loved these for years, both personally and for gift-giving, I had no idea they were locally made. Another surprise was the Nirvana Candles, made by a Freedom company; these, too, are almost a quintessential Santa Cruz-style product. The thick, comforting pillars in warm, flecked earth-tones are naturally scented and dyed and carry peaceful messages: Tranquility, Harmony, Om, Inner Peace. In my book, perfect for a hostess gift or stocking stuffer.

Josie Fuller's metal art, Drawing With Fire, offers garden stakes of all sizes in whimsical designs that include mermaids, turtles, dragonflies and suns, and also bigger wall sculptures. Here you'll also find sea glass jewelry, made with pieces found on local beaches--definitely a keepsake gift. Corralitos artist Andrew Davey spends his time carving scrimshaw on woolly mammoth tusks; it's considered a fossil, so no worries about ivory, folks. The natural tones vary from grays to tans to browns, and Davey's intricate designs grace money clips, tiny boxes and knife handles. And then there's the eye-catching pottery of Gary L. Wilson, with its haunting, shadowy images of dolphins, turtles and drifting kelp and undulating wavelike edges. The unique turquoise-grey tones in his Sea Life Silhouettes come from his trademark combination of five different glazes on each wheel-thrown piece; choose from vases, bowls, platters and more.

Tired yet? Time to take a break and peruse your goodies contentedly, knowing that you've done a multitude of good deeds by supporting our local arts and, indeed, spreading the wealth.