When it comes to shopping local, most people assume visiting a neighborhood coffee shop or clothing store will suffice. However, Pittsburgh artists and makers of all types are increasingly turning to Internet marketplaces like Etsy to sell their wares, so we've compiled some of the most interesting Pittsburgh-made gifts you can find on Etsy.
They may not have storefronts on Penn Avenue, but their unique wares draw shoppers from beyond the Three Rivers:
creates amazing hand-painted canvas shoes featuring anything from pink flamingos to Tom Brady. Priced at $50 and up, they can feature the design of your choice. The shoes are decorated by Sadie Flower, a 21-year-old artist who lives in the Pittsburgh area. "When I was in college, I bought a pair of white Vans and sharpie fabric markers," Flower said. "A lot of people loved the artwork I did on them and wanted a pair for themselves. After doing a couple just for fun, I decided to start charging for the designs. Now, three years later, I've done about 45-50 pairs of shoes for people of all ages." You can see some of her beautiful work in the slideshow above.
If shoes are not on your wish list, pottery sold under the name Turnbuckle Farm
is quite impressive and also costs $50 and up. The seller, who goes by the name Turnbuckle D, began her shop in 2011 and makes everything from wine decanters to cups and lamps in a distinctive style, often depicting various animals. She says her work is inspired by the animals on her farm. "I was born in Pittsburgh and grew up here. Moved away for a bit but realized my mistake and moved back," she said in an email interview. She describes her studio as "a spruced-up old garden shed that opens on two sides. Chipmunks run through."
Marcy Bates turns books into sculptural objects under the name Recycled Reads
. She'll fold your name or favorite Steelers logo into a book to create an unexpected piece of original art. On her Etsy site, Bates writes that she decided to make book art because she had many books to work with as the owner of a used book store in Cranberry Township, Butler County. "I often come across books that are outdated or unsellable," she wrote. "With an extreme personal need to keep these books out of landfills I began creating beautiful art out of them." Bates spent much time and effort perfecting the folding process through trial and error -- who can even imagine all the folding! Her work is priced from $40 and up.
Stentor Danielson, who works by day as an assistant professor of geography at Slippery Rock University, moonlights as Mapsburgh
on Etsy, where he carves out intricate paper designs based on local Pittsburgh maps or any map of your choice. His Etsy business started as the result of a thoughtful gift he gave his former girlfriend: a carved-out map of the distance between their houses. She liked the gift so much that she suggested he sell the delicate lacy designs on Etsy. "With that bit of encouragement, Mapsburgh was born. It provided a great way to combine my interest in art with my love of maps. (I have a Ph.D. in geography from Clark University.) I've enjoyed making maps for so many different customers, and I always look forward to the new challenges that people throw my way," Danielson writes on his Etsy site. Prices start at $24 and are higher for hand-carved maps.
If you're still scratching your head, wondering which gift is perfect for a more casual acquaintance, an old standby has always been soap. Who can't recall getting a bar of soap or giving a primary school teacher a body product from Bath and Body Works? Since you know you're going to give someone soap, why not make it Hip Modern Soap
, made in Pittsburgh by Carrie Robertson and her partner John Elliff. The couple makes the soap out of their Lawrenceville kitchen in a variety of blends including rosemary mint, vetiver, lemongrass mint, wild cherry, pink champagne and caffeine buzz. They also make bath bombs and other personal care products in a cruelty-free, all-natural and all-around hip, modern fashion.
The pair came upon soap-smithing kind of randomly: "Blending the DIY ethos with a strong desire to bathe regularly, the two decided one day that 'Hey...I bet we could do that,'" they wrote about their Etsy shop. The trial-and-error phase was then underway. Drawing heavily on Carrie's childhood memories of Grandma Bina sweating over a legit cauldron of pig fat and lye, the two decided that, "Hey...I bet we could do WAY better than that." They say that they are constantly just fooling around with the concept of "Will this get me clean?" Their soaps are not only solid scrubbing agents, but also marbled art objects
. And all for $6 and up.
Alternate Histories, a card maker on Etsy
, is one of my personal favorites. The card company created by Matthew Buchholz takes historical images, then inserts the fantastic. "My work began with a show at WildCard
in 2010, a great store in Pittsburgh, where I had the inspiration to Photoshop a gigantic monster into an old engraving of the city," Buchholz writes on his site. "Since then I've expanded with different cities, holiday & greeting cards, original works and more, all taking historic images and adding in something from a pop culture sci-fi background." You can buy art prints or greeting cards from him on Etsy with titles like "The Menacing of the Great East River Suspension Bridge," featuring a historical painting with a giant squid arm interjected, wrapping around the bridge, or a card with a giant cat pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
In his Etsy bio, Buchholz writes that he has been able to travel to different cities selling his wares, and has had his work featured as part of the Futur Anterier show at agnes b. galerie du jour in Paris. "Each piece starts with the original image. I do a lot of online and flea market research to find interesting pieces, then I look for some monster, robot, alien or other creature that fits the style of the piece. I do all this in between sessions of noseball with my dog Otis," Buchholtz writes. Prices for his work are $20 and up.
The last Etsy seller of note is No Sleep Boutique
, created by late-night crafter Alaina Dadey. She makes bows, cufflinks, bow ties and earrings by hand in a vintage style. She captured my eye with her pizza cufflinks
, which I trust you, dear readers, will make best sellers. Dadey says she gets the urge to craft most often at 3 a.m. "My shop started one night when I was having trouble falling asleep. I started making bows, and I fell in love," Dadey writes in her bio. "My third floor has been converted into a NoSleepBoutique studio. My studio in Pittsburgh is my perfect adorable oasis filled with wonderful things that inspire me. Finding new and wonderful fabrics is something that truly fuels my slightly caffeinated life." With prices starting at $5, they would be perfect stocking stuffers.
Because I am compulsive and couldn't stop looking at all the great Pittsburgh stuff on Etsy, here are some of my favorite individual items: a necklace that is actually a living plant, called a "wearable friend;"
a beautiful droid-inspired jeweled ring
; this strange $1,800 sculpture
; and these crocheted pierogies
. Your holiday shopping is now done. You're welcome.