Welcome to the 12 Tacoma Artist Gifts of Christmas! Inspired by both the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song and food writer Sue Kidd, who's offering you the 13 Tacoma Foodie Gifts of Christmas, here are 12 alternative gift idea: no partridges in pear trees, but something a lot more uniquely local.
So what's Tacoma known for creatively? Here's a hint: It's not generic Northwest Native American salmon designs or anything resembling Dale Chihuly.
No, what makes the Tacoma arts scene special is the gritty or the unusual: graffiti murals, letterpress books, indie rock, rain-soaked poetry, films that laugh at local stereotypes, weirdly shaped blown glass, sumi-e tea bag painting, theater or opera or classical music that tweaks your expectations in high-quality ways, jewelry made of insects or bones.
If you're going to buy someone a local, artist-made gift, you ought to look at this list for inspiration (except, maybe, the graffiti).
So here's my take on the 12 Days of Christmas gift list, inspired by art made in the 253. And it even scans like the original. Just please don't sing it over and over again.
Disclaimer: Yes, I am fully aware that the traditional 12 days of Christmas refers to the 12-day period from Dec. 25-Jan. 6, or Epiphany, when the Wise Men arrived to present the original Christmas gifts to the infant Jesus. But if I published this list beginning Christmas Day, that wouldn't exactly give you a lot of shopping time now, would it?
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: A deck of Tacoma playing cards.
Recently launched by Tacoma Makes after a successful kickstarter.com fundraiser, these cards feature art by 14 Tacoma artists from Art Chantry (a tombstone for Rockin' Robin Roberts), Beautiful Angle (the Murray Morgan bridge poster), Shaun Peterson (two Native American faces) and more, showing local iconic locations from the Java Jive to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. For just $20 you'll have a gift that'll sell Tacoma and give your friends some fun on a winter evening. Find the cards at locales such as the LeMay - America's Car Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, Throwing Mud Gallery and the Pacific Northwest Shop. tacomamakes.com
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Two baby heads, and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
Baby heads? Yes - glass ones, of course. Tacoma's famous for glassblowing, but you don't want to buy the usual Chihuly knock-off. No, you want to get your true love something that shouts "Gritty Tacoma!" with all the attitude it can, and that's just what Oliver Doriss' extremely wacky blown glass baby head tankards do.
Originally inspired by an artist house he lived in where someone brought in a Dumpster's-worth of broken baby dolls one day, Doriss has been making these heads for nearly 15 years now, and they still sell like hotcakes.
Is it the delightful ickiness of drinking beer (or anything else) out of a baby's head? Is it the disturbingly vacant expression in its eyes? Or is it the zombie factor of a lobotomized infant? Whatever it is, you know you want one. Or two.
They run $35 from Doriss' Fulcrum Gallery (noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, 1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma; 253-250-0520, fulcrumtacoma.com) or online at babyheadglasses.com; they are $45 from the Museum of Glass shop (1801 Dock St., Tacoma; 866-468-7386, museumofglass.org).
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Three CDs, two baby heads, and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
And not just any CDs, but ones by Tacoma bands. Three local groups that have released new recordings in the past year - Kareem Kandi, Goldfinch and the Midnight Salvage Company - all are different enough to suit your most finicky musical friends.
Kareem Kandi is one of the region's best sax players and a great band leader to boot, plus he teaches at Tacoma's School of the Arts and Pierce College. The Kareem Kandi Band plays the kind of smooth jazz you'll want to listen to all holiday long, and their latest CD "See What I'm Sayin" (released in April) features Kandi on sax, Rob Hutchinson on bass and Julian Macdonough on drums for an acoustic sound that goes from the laid-back "Love in all its forms" to the upfront "Hustlin'. " $8 online at kareemkandi.com.
Goldfinch needs no introduction: They've been heading up the Tacoma indie rock scene for years now with their raw sound and emotion. Headed up by Aaron Stevens on vocals and guitar, the lineup of Paul Hirschl on drums, Steve Norman on trumpet and slide guitar, Emily Ann Peterson on vocals and cello, Luke Stevens on guitar, keyboard and vocals, and Mike Bergstrom on bass has just released "Faded Explanations" and it's worth paying any price for it at goldfinchlovesme.com.
Blending Americana with an indie-rock feel and a fascinatingly raw vocal sound, described as "whiskey-burning, heartland rock, " Midnight Salvage Company has been steadily building up a local following. Their CD "What You Hope For" goes from wistful violin to gritty guitar in every track. Around $10 on itunes.com and cdbaby.com. More info at midnightsalvageco.com.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
Tacoma's full of potters, and while they make awesome sculptures as well, you can't go wrong with giving someone a handmade ceramic bowl. They can keep it as art, fill it with useful stuff or - good grief - even eat their soup out of it. Lucky for you, there are plenty of places to find ceramics. Try art gallery collectives like the Proctor Art Gallery (3811 N. 26th St., proctorartgallery.com), or studios like Throwing Mud (2210 N. 30th St., throwingmudgallery.com).
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Five gothic rings (sung with dramatic slow-down) ... four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
Sometimes, it's not enough to give your true love a ring. Or even five golden rings. If you're a Tacoman, you'll have an appreciation for the unusual, the twisted - in short, the Gothic - and you'll want a ring that does more than glitter.
Like Lisa Kinoshita's jewelry, that bends insects, bone and fossil into delicate metal with a subtlety Lady Gaga would die for. Or Kristi Coyne's neo-Victorian cameos, that sculpt profiles, spiders or skulls onto ladylike resin ovals, the perfect match for a black silk glove.
Lisa Kinoshita art jewelry: 253-250-7745, lisakinoshita.com.
Kristi Coyne Gothic jewelry: Nine Lives Vintage, 3013 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-267-0324, ninelivesvintagewears.com.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Six sumi paintings, five gothic rings ... four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
In case you hadn't noticed, Tacoma's become a hotbed for sumi-e painting, a contemporary Zen mixture of Japanese brush and ink, Chinese detail, Western watercolor and overall serenity. The Puget Sound Sumi Artists association keeps it all going with classes, meetings and exhibitions, and its members produce work that takes this 1,000-year-old art form into the 21st century Pacific Northwest.
There are many local sumi artists worth choosing for your true love's gift, but six of the best are Selinda Sheridan, Fumiko Kimura, Ellen Miffit, Bill Colby, Bill Havens and Nola Tresslar. Find their work and that of others priced from $15-$100 at Flow Gallery and Studio, 301 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma. It's open 2-4 p.m. this afternoon, 5-8 p.m. Dec. 20 for ArtWalk, and by appointment any time. 253-255-4675.
On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Seven concert tickets, six sumi paintings, five gothic rings ... four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
No, you don't need to get exactly seven tickets (although that would make a nice subscription gift for your true love), but as it happens, there are at least seven musical organizations in Tacoma that offer excellent classical concerts.
Like vocal? Then buy tickets to Tacoma Opera, which is putting on "The Tragedy of Carmen" and "La Traviata" in upcoming months. Or The Christmas Revels, whose folk music-based shows open this weekend.
If you prefer instrumental, then choose tickets to the Tacoma Symphony, Tacoma Concert Band or Northwest Sinfonietta. All offer a season full of big-ensemble music from Beethoven to Brahms. If you like it smaller, then try the sophisticated chamber music at Second City Chamber Series, or one of the many solo artists and ensembles coming via the Broadway Center for Performing Arts: Zoe Keating and the Portland Cello Project in January, for instance, who'll blow your preconceptions of the cello completely out of the park.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Eight letterpress posters, seven concert tickets, six sumi paintings, five gothic rings ... four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
Well, you don't really need to buy eight letterpress posters, but if you wanted to shower your true love with letterpress admiration, you'd have way more than eight to choose from. Tacoma's known for letterpress artists, boasting events such as the annual King's Books Wayzgoose, the festival where all Puget Sound book, paper and letterpress artists get together, and guerrilla letterpress art like Beautiful Angle, the two-man team of Tom Llewellyn and Lance Kagey who've just passed their 10th anniversary of trucking around Tacoma in the dead of night slapping hand-printed, quirkily witty posters up onto local landmarks.
Then there's the other duo Anagram Press: Chandler O'Leary and Jessica Spring, both formidable letterpress artists in their own right, who've collaborated on a series of posters on feminists from local history as well as other cool stuff.
The list goes on, but for instant letterpress Christmas gratification, you can buy posters online for about $20 at beautifulangle.homestead.com or anagram-press.com. Or tail Llewellyn and Kagey and hope you get lucky with a free one.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Nine local poets, eight letterpress posters, seven concert tickets, six sumi paintings, five gothic rings ... four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
There's got to be an upside to all this rain and gloom, and here it is: It gives local poets plenty of undistracted time to sit, think and pen lines. And they do. City and community support like the poet laureateship, friendly reading venues, local presses like Exquisite Disarray and local anthologies have encouraged our poets to blossom. If your true love truly loves poetry, then get him or her one of these nine volumes. And don't worry, not all of them are about rain.
Kevin Miller's "The Old Town Poems, " Tammy Robacker's "The Vicissitudes, " Hans Ostrom's "The Coast Starlight: Collected Poems, " Allen Braden's "Elegy in the Passive Voice, " William Kupinse's "Fallow, " Peter Ludwin's "Rumors of Fallible Gods, " Richard Wakefield's "A Vertical Mile, " Jean Musser's "The Crimson Hat, " and poems by Josie Emmons Turner, Grace Livingstone, and Antonio Edwards Jr. in the anthology "In Tahoma's Shadow."
All available from about $13 at King's Bookstore, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma. 253-272-8801, kingsbookstore.com.
On the 10th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Ten movie tickets, nine local poets, eight letterpress posters, seven concert tickets, six sumi paintings, five gothic rings ... four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
I don't mean tickets to the Galaxy Narrows, no offense to the cineplex. Buy your true love 10 tickets to The Grand Cinema - or a membership - and you'll be supporting a local nonprofit that encourages local filmmakers. Or support the local filmmakers directly by giving an IOU for a pass to the Tacoma Film Festival next October: It's a long way off, but your Christmas gift will get someone into a week's worth of fascinating indie film, with at least two days' worth made right here in Tacoma or Seattle.
Memberships run $45, festival passes are available later in the year from The Grand Cinema, 606 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma. 253-572-6062, grandcinema.com.
On the 11th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Eleven quirky comics, 10 movie tickets, nine local poets, eight letterpress posters, seven concert tickets, six sumi paintings, five gothic rings ... four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards.
Comics for Christmas? You bet. The gritty city has a posse of excellent cartoonists who meet regularly and put out graphic novels, blog entries, posters and T-shirts that scream "Tacoma!" in attitude and style. They're the members of C.L.A.W. (Cartoonists' League of Absurd Washingtonians) and they all wear fezzes at comic events, which says it all, really.
What to buy? Well, if you have the money, you can start with Foundation of Art Award nominee R.R. Anderson's grid of framed original "History of Tacoma" comics from feedtacoma.com, for sale now at B2 Gallery for $400.
Have a smaller budget? "Robotic Overlords Love You" T-shirts (they glow in the dark), the C.L.A.W. steamroller print from last year's Wayzgoose festival, are just $20 from King's Books (218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-8801, kingsbookstore.com). You can also find Mark Monlux's book "Comic Critic Presents Seldom Seen Films" for $10 (also on sale at Tacoma Art Museum) and possibly a giant squid poster for $1. Mark Brill's anti-bullying graphic novel sells for $4.99 at Atomic Comics (4020 S. Steele St., Tacoma; 253-472-1908, atomiccomicsonline.com) or at Nerdy Stuffs (115 176th St. S., Spanaway; 253-267-1850); and Nick Butler sells his Riot Grrl and vampire-inspired graphic novels ($7) and "Don't Worry Be Happy" T-shirts ($15) at turtledustmedia.com.
And keep an eye out for the C.L.A.W. at an event near you. They're the guys wearing robot T-shirts and fezzes and drawing obsessively. Hard to miss.
On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: Twelve blown glass baubles, 11 quirky comics, 10 movie tickets, nine local poets, eight letterpress posters, seven concert tickets, six sumi paintings, five gothic rings ... four pottery bowls, three CDs, two baby heads and a deck of Tacoma playing cards!
Whew! We finally reached the end of the song! And as a reward, you get a Christmas bauble. No, not for you - for your true love. In fact, you can stick to the song and buy 12, and hang them on your tree. Tacoma's famous for blown glass art, and the simple globe swirled in vivid iridescent colors is still one of the most popular versions. Find them from $22 at the Museum of Glass gift shop (1801 Dock St., Tacoma; 866-468-7386, museumofglass.org), the Pacific Northwest Shop (2702 N. Proctor St., Tacoma; 800-942-3523, pacificnorthwestshop.com), Fulcrum Gallery (1308 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma; 253-250-0520, fulcrumgallerytacoma.com) or Bella Balls (bellaballs.com).