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MUSEUM GIFT SHOPS : Unusual Finds : Jewelry, original art, toys, cards and books are for sale this season. Many items relate to local history.


Museums used to be just for looking. Now they're for shopping, too.

Gift stores at museums around Ventura County offer a variety of unusual holiday gifts this season.

One-of-a-kind jewelry, original art, unusual toys for children plus calendars, cards and books are among the merchandise filling gift-shop shelves.

Admission to all the museum shops is free.

The gift shop of the Ventura County Museum of History and Art is decorated for the season and stocked with wares as varied as a bleached cow's skull encased in hand-woven cloth for $495 to Santa Claus trouble dolls from Guatemala for 50 cents.

"I try to buy merchandise of a quality in keeping with a museum. You won't find things here you find in K mart," said Meg Phelps, assistant curator. "I try to buy unique things."

The museum's mission of promoting Ventura County history and art is reflected in the goods for sale: books on area history, sized-down reproductions of orange crates from Fillmore and Santa Paula orchards, calendars of the Dudley House and silk-screened Christmas cards by Design Ten, a group of area artists.

"If a local artist has developed something, I'll give it a shot," Phelps said, indicating jewelry, baskets, note cards and prints by county artisans.

Among Christmas items are tree ornaments in the form of quilts and old-fashioned candy molds at $6.95. Clay Madonnas and creches from Mexico start at $7 and go up to $240 for one in brass and glass. "Carl's Christmas," from the popular Carl book series for children, is available for $11.95.

Youngsters can buy a gemstone on a card for as little as 15 cents, coloring books on historical or cultural subjects for $1.50 to $4.50, or kits to make moccasins, masks or jewelry for $10 to $12.

Works by W. H. D. Koerner, one of the best-known magazine and book illustrators of the Old West, are on display in the gallery. Books featuring his art are for sale.

And the West shows up in other decorative items as well: American Indian pawn jewelry, $800; incised gourds decorated with fetishes, $50 to $100, and antiqued pottery replicating that of ancient Southwest cultures, $40 to $85.

On Wednesday, the museum will hold Champagne Shopping from 4 to 7 p.m. While sipping champagne or cider and nibbling hors d'oeuvres, visitors can view the exhibits and browse in the gift shop.

A bargain table and a special sale of dry floral arrangements and novelty button covers by county artisans will be set up.

The Fillmore Historical Museum, housed in an old train depot, offers many books about local history-- particularly Fillmore history--in its gift shop.

Prices range from 50-cent postcards to the $75 book "A Place Called Sespe."

Other items in the shop include spoons, letter openers and money clips with the Fillmore crest, T-shirts and sweat shirts, citrus box labels from the 1900s, cookbooks written by the town's residents and potholders sewn by local senior citizens.

Joyce Harrold, assistant curator, said she looks for a "hometown feeling" in items she selects for the shop.

At the Ojai Valley Museum--which exhibits American Indian artifacts and early Ojai Valley history books--many items can be bought for $1 to $2: arrowheads, bookmarks, refrigerator magnets with a copy of a Chumash rock painting, bracelets, sun catchers and coloring books.

For less than $10, wooden vases, passport wallets, clay whistles and flutes, posy pins and many books, including "Badger Claws of Ojai," can be purchased.

"Anita of Rancho del Mar" by Ventura author Elaine O'Brien is in stock, as is "Ventura County: Land of Good Fortune" by Judith Triem of Santa Paula.

"We try to find things unique to the Ojai Valley, things that are somewhat historically oriented," said Joyce Nielsen, a buyer for the gift shop.

Higher-priced items include astrological signs in copper or brass, silk scarves, $23, and hand-painted mirrors and picture frames from South America, $25 to $40.

For Christmas, the museum has stocked teacup-shaped toctos from South America with Nativity or Santa scenes at $4 to $15. From Chile come embroidered and appliqued pictures of Santa or children at $10 to $25.

One of the best places to shop for stocking stuffers is Gull Wings Museum for children.

Many items cost $1 or less: gemstone rings, bug-shaped erasers, stamps, flicker rulers, petrified wood pieces, arrowheads, rock collections, shells, travel games, stickers and a slap bracelet that is also a ruler.

Other items include mobiles for $3.50, sun-print kits at $2.90, inflatable globes for $4.95, train kits for $3.50, puzzles at $1.25 to $6.25, and a bug bottle with a magnifier for $3.50.

A San Buenaventura coloring book is priced at $2, and an activity book about the Ventura County seashore costs $5. The highest priced item in the shop is Sock Scotch, an indoor hopscotch game for $30.

"Everyone has told me that our prices are modest and reasonable compared to other stores and compared to museum shops," said Jean Marshall, gift shop manager, adding that she stocks things that have educational value.

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