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The Art of Giving

Finding that perfect, yet potentially dangerous, gift

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Finding gifts for kids is easy. They know what they want, you know what they need.

Finding gifts for grown-ups is difficult. They don't know what they want, and won't ask for what they need. They want a car or new shoes and need a girlfriend, but you can't afford the car, won't shop for other people's footwear and refuse to write someone else's ISO personal ad. If the gift is going to mean anything, you're going to have to devote some thought to it. And to accomplish something more than routine compliance to convention, your gift should be a little... unreasonable. Choose art.

Art is a perfect gift, but a dangerous one. Do you buy your taste or theirs? Will they love the painting enough to hang it in the living room or will the recipient's face twitch in an effort to smile? Bringing art into the house is like bringing kids in for the first time -- they're hard to ignore, they don't tend to wear out, and they're likely to grow on you. Most Christmas gifts have life expectancies comparable to fruit flies or ferrets. Paintings, prints and sculpture tend to survive multiple human generations.

Art is expensive. There's a direct correlation between price and quality. Sorry, but it's the American way. Here are some suggestions for gifts, most under $500, a few as low as $5. These are all gifts, for better or worse, which will be remembered. The best, or the best loved, art gifts will survive job changes, home moves, kid's leaving, divorce, even death. Art tends to stick.

Gallery Crawl is a good time to scope out what's available. Hodges Taylor Gallery opens a special holiday exhibit -- Fine Art Gift Ideas Under $500 -- the night of the December 3rd crawl. Two rooms at the gallery will be devoted to paintings, drawings, photos, prints and sculpture by gallery artists. The sale is open until noon on Christmas Eve for last-minute shoppers. A short sampling:

A photograph of Elvis cast in concrete by photographer Carolyn DeMeritt. $250.

A shadow-streaked suburban front yard and sidewalk leading to childhood's front door. Hand colored etching by Robert Marsh. $225.

A woman slumbers in a four poster bed on Sunday morning. A dream state etched in dissolving bed sheets, ceiling and walls. An etching by the late Maud Gatewood. $125.

Remember, you're not an 8-year-old giving a tadpole to Mommy. Don't buy her an oil painting of a fullback busting through a defensive line. Give her the etching of the Sunday morning four-poster bed.

The Mint Museum of Craft + Design sells novel stuff. Their Museum Shop offers handmade wool Christmas decorations, flying pig Christmas cards, art books, art calendars, huggable knitted sheep and reindeer, and teeny weeny carved wooden animals from Brasstown, NC, for $5 each. Other items of interest:

A lacquered steel Menorah. Stout and weighty. $125.

Clever wood puzzle boxes by Paul Yacoe. $42-$70.

Decorative blown glass balls -- sizes range from tennis to bowling ball. $25-$60.

Ceramics from the Seagrove area of NC, including pots and bowls by Ben Owen III, a family name looming large in the state's Ceramic Universe. $90-$320.

Two of Charlotte's best galleries are closing at year's end -- a bad thing for the Charlotte art community and its fickle and devoted patrons, a good thing for Christmas looters.

WDO owner Rob Williams is retiring and he must do something with all these wonderful objects in his gallery before the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve. Williams took mighty pains and many years to assemble his collection and he's committed to finding his loved ones good homes. Everything in the gallery not on consignment is 20 percent off. It's time for feral shoppers to pounce!

Many bargains:

Thomas Donahey's handmade white oak and cotton tape dining chairs are beyond comfortable. You may never stand again. $280.

Handwrought chef's tools: tongs, spoons, whisks. Martha Stewart, meet Julia Child. $15-$50.

Ahmad Sabha's Silo Series -- ceramic pots on cast concrete pedestals. Like many magnetic works in WDO, Sabha's work taunts with come hither tactility. $400.

Salterras -- wild cherry salt and pepper shakers. Glazed, fist friendly, cue ball shapes -- like "pet rocks," except good-looking and useful and not stupid. $24.

It's also closing time for Blue Pony Gallery in NoDa: Mary Lou Sussman is closing up shop. There are lithographs, etchings, hand-colored prints and paintings available here for a week's wages or less. In this last show, Sussman's own work is hanging on her gallery walls. Her work is sensitive, deftly assembled, lyrical, inoffensive and affordable, which is all very Charlotte, except for the affordable part. Sussman can be contrary like that, but her silk screens will knit no brow. Her work can bring additional light into an already sun-filled kitchen.

Red Sky Gallery at Phillips Place is the best last-minute venue in which to gift shop in Charlotte. Prices range from $3 to $9,000, so you can choose your bracket.

Consider these:

Cast pewter hearts and wishbones. $3 and $5.

6" glass Christmas trees by Mark Glocke. $49.

Carter Smith silk ties. $160.

Painted steel and wood bar seats by Avner Zabari. $1,826.

Cherry and bird's eye maple desk and chair by Don Westley Williams. $9,200.

"It's more blessed to give than to receive." -- Acts 20:35. When you've heard enough of that, try to remember this: The giver of a gift of art is sometimes blessed, but always remembered.

Who can forget Aunt Poog when they look at the velvet tapestry of the Last Supper looming behind the TV? We can't forget loony Uncle Richard, who gave us the Warhol silkscreen of Lester Maddox the year before he died. And Momma gave me that Tiffany lampshade, the one I remember every time the kids shake the floor running through the living room. The gift of art is not a silk scarf, an iPod or a leopard skin car seat cover.

The gift of giving art is a rash that won't go away. Prone to inflammation, a pleasure to scratch.

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