Our Second Artisanal Gift Guide
With the holidays approaching, why not look for the perfect, handcrafted gift–or maybe a workshop or some other experience for an artisan-in-the-making?
By SHARON TILLEY
As our second year of publication concludes, we can happily indulge our readers who requested a repeat performance of last year’s Artisanal Gift Guide, based on the work of the craftsmen and craftswomen in our first year’s five issues. Now, drawing from our 2016 stories, you have dozens of additional choices. And remember, you vote with your dollars every time you shop. Giving a well-crafted gift directly supports the principles and the kind of built-to-last economy that Craftsmanship Quarterly champions.
Fine beginnings and endings to a meal can make a lasting impression, and we’ve got gift ideas for both. In our current issue, Laura Fraser covers the return of artisan-made vermouth to the center of the aperitif scene. The foodie on your list may appreciate the unique blends of botanicals these U.S. producers feature in their fresh takes on vermouth:
Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth ($25) is made in small batches in Oregon, from Pinot Gris, with flavors of chamomile and sage, and is designed for drinking on the rocks.
Vya ($16 and up), produced in Madera California, makes extra dry, sweet, and whisper dry varieties, for cocktails or sipping alone. Available from multiple online wine stores.
Other artisanal vermouths to seek out at your local or online wine merchant include: Sutton Cellars Brown Label Vermouth ($18), which is produced in San Francisco from Sonoma county wines; the vermouth is made in a dry style, using orange peel, chamomile, and rosemary. Ransom, an Oregon distillery, offers handcrafted sweet and dry vermouths ($30) with its own botanicals, from arch angel root to wild cherry bark. Uncouth Vermouth ($38), made in Brooklyn, features such unusual flavors as Serrano Chile Lavender, Beet Eucalyptus, Butternut Squash, and Rhubarb.
We learned the secrets of master gelatieri Andrea Soban in our summer issue, when contributor Erla Zwingle transported us to Valenza, Italy. Obviously most of us can’t jet off to Italy whenever we want some gelato. So, after a considerable amount of research, we assembled a list of the best gelatiere around the country who make gelato in authentic, natural fashion, with high-quality ingredients—and will ship it to you in the mail! They are:
Capogiro Gelato ($60 + shipping for 6 pints). Based in Philadelphia, featuring classics like Stracciatella and Pistachio, or more herbacious selections like Rosemary Honey Goat’s Milk.
Gelato Fiasco ($60 + shipping for 6-pack). Using milk from local Maine family farms and real fruits and nuts, Gelato Fiasco offers bold, intense flavors like Aleppo Pepper Pumpkin and Balsamic Black Russian Tomato.
Taste Forte ($69 + shipping for 24 cups). This 2015 Men’s Health “Best Foods for Men” winner based in Connecticut features four high protein flavors using rBST-free skim milk and cream, organic agave nectar and cage-free egg yolks.
Il Laboratorio del Gelato ($60 + shipping for four 20 oz containers). This Manhattan custom “lab” features an array of intriguing flavors such as fresh basil, pomegranate and grapefruit campari.
Dolcezza Gelato ($40 + shipping for 4 pints). This Washington, D.C.-based gelato maker crafts unusual flavors like Lemon Ricotta Cardamom, Peanut Butter Stracciatella and Champagne Mango Sorbetto.
Zingerman’s Creamery ($175, incl. shipping, for ten 12-oz containers). This famed Ann Arbor, Michigan based maker will create your own DIY gelato gift – you select the base, flavors and mixables, name your creation for the custom label, and Zingerman does the rest.
Handcrafted Leather – Utility, fashion & beauty combined
Leather turned out to be the medium favored by several artisans we profiled in 2016. Beginning with our Made in America? Spring issue, Laura Fraser explored the rebirth of the Shinola brand as a manufacturer of luxury goods in downtown Detroit and our editor & publisher, Todd Oppenheimer, sought out the perfect, American-made leather bag. Leather appeared again in our Summer and Fall issues. The first was Grace Rubenstein and James Daly’s inside tour of how the iconic British company Brooks has made the world’s most comfortable (leather) bicycle seats since 1882; this was followed by Andy Rieber’s in-depth profile of master rawhide artisan Bill Black, a former cowboy renowned for the skill and artistry with which he braids hackamores and other horse tack.
Whether you’re shopping for a city-slicker or a buckeroo, they’re apt to appreciate a well-made leather item built to last a lifetime. Here is a list of the leather crafters we’re talking about:
Leather crafters of handbags, briefcases, wallets and belts ($200 and up): Shinola (Detroit, MI), Tanner Goods (Portland, Oregon), Glaser Designs (San Francisco), April in Paris/Beatrice Amblard Atelier (San Francisco).
Leather bicycle seats by Brooks ($100 and up): Wallingford Bike Parts Co. or Amazon for their flagship model, the Brooks B17 standard saddle.
Hackamores, bosals and other horse gear by rawhide artist Bill Black ($400 and up): Try Twin Trees or contact Bill & Teresa Black directly via their Facebook page.
And if you’re looking for the perfect stocking stuffer to go with your leather gift, Obenauf Leather Care Oils ($17 and up) is highly recommended for vegetable-tanned and oil-tanned leather goods. It has even been tested by the Leather Research Laboratory, in Cincinnati Ohio. After boots and other leather goods were treated with a variety of leading leather dressings, and then put through nine different stress tests, Obenauf’s ranked first.
Last, how about a pair of shoes? If you count yourself among the elite travelers of the world, here is what might be the ultimate of the ultimate, at least as far as Tuscan travel goes. You may recall our profile of Daniela Ghezzo, a Venetian master shoemaker. If you happen to be in Venice, a visit to Daniela’s workshop can guarantee you a pair of some of the finest shoes on the planet—and the most comfortable. If you’re not going near Venice, and Tuscany is on the itinerary, consider making arrangements with Eliiss, a new outfit aimed at giving travelers a full-service, luxury experience combining fashion and travel. And yes, it includes a custom-fitted pair of bespoke shoes, which you design yourself in consultation with Eliiss’s artisans.
If there’s someone on your list who qualifies as a road or mountain biking gear head, our 2016 profiles of famed bike-builders Ross Shafer (“From bicycles to pedal steel guitars: One maker’s quirky frontiers” by Owen Edwards) and Craig Calfee (“What? A bamboo bicycle?” by Jeff Greenwald) may help you understand their passion a little more … and provide a couple of gift ideas at the same time.
Starting at the high end, if your biking enthusiast has been admiring bamboo bikes, which combine natural beauty (and sustainability) with impressive strength and flexibility, you may want to check out these bamboo bike artisans ($470 and up): Bamboosero MTB and road bike frames (Calfee’s nonprofit initiative in Africa); Calfee Design (Santa Cruz, CA), Greenstar Bikes (Minneapolis), Erba Cycles (Boston), and Renovo Bikes (Portland, OR).
If you’re shopping for a mountain biking lover who has already collected WAY too many bike frames and parts (we hear that happens), consider buying them a permanent spot at the new Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in Fairfax, California by way of a personalized brick ($250 and up) in the museum’s Mt. Tam Legacy Wall. The tiny museum here is worth a visit, virtually or physically, for a range of reasons. The bikes on display are fascinating, and gorgeous. And the proprietors (Connie and Joe Breeze, of Breezer Bikes) sell stunning gift cards, featuring photos of classic 19th Century bicycles. Hall of Fame t-shirts and other memorabilia are also available for $20 and up.
Stocking stuffer idea: a gift subscription to Bicycle Quarterly ($36/year) – in addition to plenty of bike tests and technical articles, the magazine has amazing bike travel features with beautiful photography. It is also perhaps the most in-depth magazine on the market about the world of bicycling (albeit from a traditionalist’s perspective).
For Fly-Fishing Enthusiasts
Bamboo’s strength, durability, and flexibility has been coveted by crafters of fishing poles for centuries. Our Summer 2016 story by Yukari Iwatani Kane explores the disappearing traditional Japanese craft of making wazao – collapsible, portable bamboo fishing poles that are also collectible works of art. If the fly-fisherman on your gift list has been pining for a handmade bamboo fly rod, here are some sources to consider.
Tenkara fly-fishing poles are available ($157 and up) from Tenkara, USA (Boulder, CO), Tenkara Rod Co. (Driggs, Idaho) and Patagonia Provisions.
There are a number of highly regarded U.S. makers of handmade bamboo fly rods ($1000 and up), including Tony Bellaver at Alpenglow brand (Oakland, CA); Glenn Bracket at Sweetgrass Rods (Twin Bridges, Montana); Jason Fox and Tom Morgan of Tom Morgan Rodsmiths (Manhattan, Montana); and Bill Oyster (Blue Ridge, Georgia).
If you (or yours) are looking for a fly-fishing experience rather than gear, check out the trips and guides at World Cast Anglers (Idaho, Wyoming and Montana) and Lost Coast Outfitters (a network of two dozen guides covering Oregon and California).
If the movie lover on your list tends to complain about the poor quality of old films available for rent—or just their unavailability—look at our film restoration story by Barbara Tannenbaum. This remarkable piece of journalism is likely to inspire you to poke around in the following resources.
For a classic movie DVD to put under the tree, try Flicker Alley, the Warner Brothers Archive (includes Sony Pictures Screen Classics library), and the Universal Vault Series. All three offer Manufactured-on-Demand (DVD) old film noir titles online. The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber also offer collections of restored classics, and FilmStruck is a new classics subscription service by Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Collection.
Last, for budding leather & bamboo artisans
We close with some ideas for the tinkerer or amateur artisan on your gift list – adult or adolescent – who would rather make something themselves than receive a finished product. While researching the perfect leather bag and the new world of bamboo bikes, we discovered a handful of workshops and DIY kits.
On the West Coast, we found four leather crafting courses ($92.50 and up): “Leather School” at Amblard Leather Atelier (San Francisco); The Crucible (Oakland, CA); MakeSmith Leather Crafting Classes (Santa Barbara, CA); and Aiden’s School of Leather Trades (Rogue River, Oregon).
For DIY bamboo bike building options, Calfee offers DIY bamboo bike building kits ($200 and up, frame only). And you can find a variety of bamboo bike building resources at Bamboo Bike Supplies. If you happen to live in the Southeastern U.S., HERObike will offer several bamboo bike building workshops in 2017 ($650).
And that’s not all. In our next issue, Spring 2017, we will have a story about the best schools, workshops, and courses around the country for hand craftsmanship in a range of disciplines. So stay tuned for more.
© 2023 Sharon Tilley. All rights reserved. Under exclusive license to Craftsmanship, LLC. Unauthorized copying or republication of any part of this article is prohibited by law.