Visions of doughnuts
The Donut Shop, a photo project started in 2011, allows you to buy art in bulk (at a discount!). Groups of rotating photographers, based in Chicago and elsewhere, offer up five-by-seven-inch limited-edition photo prints, available in sets of six or 13 for less than $2 each—a nice price, especially when the Shop’s current crop of artists includes local hotshots Daniel Shea and Stephen Eichhorn. The Donut Shop, of course, wouldn’t be appropriately named without the inclusion of doughnuts, and you can buy those prints in bulk as well, from the mauve sheen of strawberry frosted to the flawless, waxy surface of vanilla icing. The highlight of the Donut Shop is without a doubt The Big Donut, a 16-by-20-inch print of a sprinkle-covered double-chocolate doughnut. Who wouldn’t want something that looks this goddamn delicious hanging in their home? —Luca Cimarusti $10 for a half dozen, $20 for a baker’s dozen, $30 for The Big Donut, the-d-o-n-u-t-shop.com.
Local pride on your sleeve
Joseph “Fresh Goods” Robinson and Terrell Jones like to weave local pride into their streetwear brand, Vita Morte. Case in point: a bold T-shirt and hoodie that proclaims, “Chicago Over Everything.” The threads have become more sought-after as they’ve been donned by members of the booming local hip-hop scene; surging septet Kids These Days flaunt the design in the brand’s fall lookbook, and Universal Republic signee YP wears a hoodie version of it on the cover of his recent No Doz mixtape. While the “Chicago Over Everything” hoodie is great for the cold, we suggest the slightly cheaper T-shirt for a gift that can be enjoyed year-round. —Leor Galil $30 plus shipping, shop.vita-morte.com.
Want to look like you’ve got inside connections even though you know absolutely nobody of any importance? Make a present of what promise to be the hottest tickets in town this holiday season. Broadway in Chicago is bringing touring productions of War Horse (12/18-1/5, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, $30-$97) and The Book of Mormon (12/11-6/2, Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, $45-$115) to the Loop. Both were huge hits in their New York incarnations—in fact, they formed a kind of tag team at the 2011 Tonys, Mormon running the musical awards while War Horse did similarly well in the play category.
Other gifts requiring some (public) assembly: Goodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol (through 12/29, 170 N. Dearborn, $25-$82), indisputably classic after 35 years. Congo Square Theatre’s Afrocentric Nativity (12/13-12/23, Kennedy King College Theater, 740 W. 63rd, $45), conjuring Christianity’s creation myth in dance and sacred song. Marriott Lincolnshire’s My One and Only (through 12/31, 10 Marriott, Lincolnshire, $40-$48), for those more inclined to worship at the Church of the Patent-leather Tap Shoe. Either of the dueling “radio” versions of It’s a Wonderful Life, staged lovingly and live by American Theater Company (through 12/30, 1909 W. Byron, $35-$40) and American Blues Theater (through 12/30, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, $29-$49). And Profiles Theatre’s 20th-anniversary revival of Hellcab (through 12/23, 4139 N. Broadway, $30-$40), wherein a taxi driver arrives at grace by means of a trip through Chicago’s infernal regions. —Tony Adler
Boutique (and low-brow) DVDs
Olive Films, which operates out of Saint Charles, has become one of the most eclectic and unpredictable DVD manufacturers in the country. Not only has the company released major works by Jean-Luc Godard (Histoire(s) du Cinema, Ici et Ailleurs), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (I Only Want You to Love Me), and Ingmar Bergman (Face to Face) previously unavailable on disc in this country; they’ve put together new editions of such American classics as John Ford’s Rio Grande, Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil, and Sidney Lumet’s film version of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Their low-brow selections are pretty interesting too, ranging from vulgar satire (Otto Preminger’s Skidoo) to high camp (the Jacqueline Susann adaptation Once Is Not Enough) to schlock favorites from 90s Hollywood (The Perfect Weapon, Stephen King’s Thinner)—all at a reasonable rate for boutique-label DVDs. —Ben Sachs $16 to $20 for most single-disc releases if you order directly from olivefilms.com.
Yes, irony is still in style
The New York Times last month published a broadside against “irony” by Christy Wampole, a professor of French at Princeton. She mourned the old, sincere ways she saw being subsumed by an onslaught of hipster affectation. Wampole identified with some of these tendencies herself: irony “signals a deep aversion to risk,” she noted, so she herself found it “difficult” to give “sincere gifts,” opting instead for impersonal kitsch—ironic presents. The ironic gift of the 2012 season is a cat drawing from the I Want to Draw a Cat for You guy, whose name is Steve Gadlin. He’s a Chicago resident who has drawn, as of this writing, 9,805 cats. (Gadlin also writes songs (iwanttowriteasongforyou.com), but, starting at $99.95, they’re not for the hoi polloi.) Gadlin can’t guarantee delivery of cat drawings by Christmas anymore, but the alternative, a gift certificate, is a much better idea: like snowflakes, all people are different, and maybe you’d better let your loved ones choose their own fucking cat. —Sam Worley $9.95 for cat drawings; $5 for customization, color, or shipping, iwanttodrawacatforyou.com.
Like Threadless, but for art
Cheap art! It is the metier of Chicago-based Thumbtack Press, which acts as a sort of conduit between a community of some 100 artists and illustrators and the community of cheap-art enthusiasts—it’s like Threadless, sort of, but with the option to hang the work on your wall rather than on your chest. On the Thumbtack website you can search by color, artist, size, genre (“low brow” is about as close as you’ll get, categorically, to “hard-core porn”—sorry), or subject matter. And there’s a search function—if you have a friend who’s particularly enamored of monkeys, for instance, you’ll be pleased when a search yields a healthy range of options, including a Sacred Heart of Christ-type thing, by Craig LaRotonda, but with a rhesus Jesus. The press casts a wide net for its artists, with four hailing from Chicago: Steve Seeley, Matthew Woodson, Jeremiah Ketner, and Kate Pugsley. —Sam Worley $20 for simple prints, $50 for stretched-canvas prints, $75 for framed prints, thumbtackpress.com.
Gateway to absinthe
Letherbee Distillers, a Ravenswood-based concern that began distribution just over six months ago, has created a gift set that includes a bottle of Letherbee Original Gin, one of its Autumnal Gin (made with clove, nutmeg, and allspice), and a half bottle (375 ml) of its barrel-aged absinthe, which the distillery boasts could be “the whiskey drinker’s gateway drug to absinthe.” The boxes themselves, by RX Made—an arm of the Rebuilding Exchange that uses reclaimed wood to create new pieces—are made from old-growth pine floorboards salvaged from Chicago buildings and straps repurposed from old leather belts. Letherbee owner Brenton Engel says that he’s run into bureaucratic delays with getting the absinthe label approved, but he expects the gift sets to be available very soon—at the latest, ten days before Christmas, even if he has to write the labels himself. —Julia Thiel $90, sold at Provenance Food and Wine, Lush Wine & Spirits, Life’s a Cabernet, the Noble Grape.
Man in a can
Have we men ceded too much ground to our more delicate counterparts in the aroma department? Are today’s fragrances too floral, threatening to domesticate our noses into the sensory equivalent of the common house cat? Heavens to Murgatroyd, sometimes you need a Feblast, not a Febreze, for a newborn man cave—or an odor that calls for a roundhouse kick to the face. Empower your buddies with Archer, a locally made air spray that offers “air superiority” over stank and feminine smells. It comes in three manly smelling varieties: European sports car, hunting lodge, and distillery. One spray and that clingy woman coming between you and your best bro will get the message. As a gift, Archer doesn’t say “wash more” to a fetid friend or a rank relative so much as “be manlier.” Years of watching men twice my size hurtling at each other over a football (now there’s a marketable scent, Archer) have me thinking that’s an easier pill to swallow. —Asher Klein $14, sold at Haberdash and archermen.com.
Insults on display
The boatloads of patriotic crafts out there plastered with the Chicago flag are all well and good, but sometimes one’s love for the city is tempered by more complicated feelings. Slightly Insulting Chicago Posters, launched this summer by writer RC Jones and designers Jeni Brendemuehl and Lauren Schroer, gets it. They started their line of posters with Logan Square (“Come for the fun. Stay because you got shot.”) and now offer more than 20 others, including Streeterville (“Proof that you don’t have to move to the suburbs to find a cultureless neighborhood”), Bronzeville (“Your time is now! Just kidding, it was the first half of the 19th century”), Uptown (“Roaring Twenties charm meets psych ward with no walls”), Rogers Park (“Perfect if you like Epcot’s diversity but hate how clean and safe it is at night”), Printers Row (“Your idea of a summer festival is a book fair. Nerds.”), and even the suburbs (“Where the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of your twenties go to die”). There are also designs on their Tumblr (slightlyinsultingchicagoposters.tumblr.com) that aren’t yet for sale but will be eventually. —Julia Thiel $18, etsy.com/shop/SlightlyInsultingChi.
Chicago via atomizer
One might think that a Chicago-based perfume‘s scent would be a blend of Blommer Chocolate factory, Garrett popcorn, and Chicago River. Fortunately that is not the case with Tru Blooms Chicago. While savoring its bouquet, I detected notes of spring water, smoke, charred oak, and just a hint of tannin. (Wait a sec, that was the bourbon I was drinking last night.) Tru Blooms describes the scent as “reminiscent of a day along the shores of Lake Michigan,” and actual test subjects called it “light,” “fresh,” and “floral.” Floral is right, as the perfume is distilled from roses, lavender, lilies, and violets grown in actual local gardens and urban farms all over the city (including on Park District land). Quantities are limited, of course. —Jerome Ludwig $65 for 3.4 ounces, $38 for 1.7 ounces, available online and at locations listed on trubloomschicago.com.
The gift of Blab
Everyone knows books make great gifts. Illustrated books make really great gifts. Illustrated books by San Francisco-based Last Gasp make super-duper gifts. So out of all the many illustrated books out there, including those from Last Gasp, why single out Blab World 2 as especially giftworthy? I do so because it’s compiled by Chicago-based designer Monte Beauchamp. Beauchamp is no slouch in the design field, having received the 2012 Richard Gangel Art Director Award from the Society of Illustrators (keeping company with the likes of the 2011 recipient, New Yorker art director Francoise Mouly, no less). For the second annual Blab! anthology of visual art, Beauchamp has curated a wide array of comics art, illustrated stories, and artwork by an equally wide array of artists, and it’s all printed in bold, resplendent colors per usual Last Gasp standards. Feature articles include a tribute to comics artist Will Eisner and a paean to the old Zap Comix. —Jerome Ludwig $24.95; if it’s not in your neighborhood bookshop, order it at lastgasp.com.
Move over, bunny ears
Distort and wrench your fingers into a boring wolf, goose, or bunny no more. Owly Shadow Puppets outdo blase shadow-puppet theater by creating cartoonlike, often fantastical characters, as based on founder Andrea Everman’s ink drawings. “Carefully designed to function as toys and art objects,” the puppets are laser-cut from heavy mat board and occasionally built as a scene—like with the “Robot Moonscape” or “Owl Treescape.” Other designs include a yeti, T. rex, and sea monster, some with multiple movable joints. Everman notes that because the puppets are attached to thin bamboo sticks and do have wires, they may not be appropriate for children under four years old to handle. As for adults, sitting alone in your darkened apartment and designing a shadow-puppet universe is a totally acceptable thing to do. —Kevin Warwick $12-$35, etsy.com/shop/owlyshadowpuppets.
Gimme your digits
Maybe there’s something a little off about wearing what appears to be a severed finger around your neck, but Laura Prieto-Velasco, founder of Hunter Gatherer Jewelry, says the fingers from her “Nomad” jewelry series have been one of her most popular items. They do have a sort of morose, dark charm. Cast from Prieto-Velasco’s own finger—she’ll do personal casting if you’re able to swing by her studio—the jewelry comes in natural bronze, white bronze, or yellow brass and is often made to order, though she always has a few on hand. In addition to the “basic” finger necklaces, she’s also designed homages to both Goldfinger and Laura Palmer’s character in Twin Peaks—the latter complete with a small “R” underneath the fingernail. —Kevin Warwick $125, $225 for personal casting, huntergathererjewelry.com.