COLUMBIA, 12/16/11 (Beat Byte) -- I knew I had finally found the perfect gift for my wife when, after church one Sunday, we wandered over to Columbia's North Village and entered the spectacular world of art and artisanship known as the Artlandish Catacombs.
A subterranean gallery like no other, the Catacombs once housed rail-era shipping and cold storage before historic preservationist John Ott transformed it. Today, the sprawling artisans mall at 1019 E. Walnut features the perfect holiday-shopping combination: some of the area's finest art and hand-crafted gifts at irresistible prices.
Through the doorway to it all -- Lisa Bartlett's Artlandish Gallery -- my wife spotted the "Bold and Beautiful" collection: stunning handcrafted necklaces by the artist N. Kautz.
Enormous blue stones tinted onyx; glittering quartz-like glass; polished pewter-colored chains; pink and emerald turquoise; tumbled and raw amethyst. The minute she started trying them on, I braced myself for sudden heart failure brought on by high pocketbook pressure. I tried to get her to look at something else: something I knew must be a whole lot cheap--er, more affordable.
Then, a divine revelation (it was Sunday, after all). The necklace she was holding was only $45.00 I had to look at the price tag twice. Decimal out of place, certainly. But then, good husband that I am, I started looking at all the tags. $50, $60, $25. No way could this be true!
But indeed it is throughout Columbia's Catacombs, where I just finished my Christmas shopping and where some of the area's loveliest handcrafted gifts sell for between $10 to $30.
I asked Lisa to show me her personal favorites and any great pieces her customers haven't yet discovered. We checked out more lovely hand-made jewelry by Jessica Lawson's Dea Dia and Patty Doyle from Stephens College. She showed me Columbia artist Peg Craig's SquarePeg Pottery: thin, elegant, and functional. I was surprised at how slender the pieces were, yet how sturdy. We looked at the quilts and fiber arts of a six-member team called "Artrageous" -- Jackie Berry, Patty Cantu, Christy Gray, Pam Gruer, Karon Kuggler, and Sharon Pendergraft.
Lisa also wanted me to check out Chris McGee's wood and ceramic decorator signs, which she likens to work Jackson Pollock might have created if he had lived in Missouri. It's so unique, McGee hasn't yet featured it on his website. But he does show off a line of artistic cards and prints Lisa carries called Mother Teresa's Door. "I was fortunate enough to meet this Great woman," McGee writes. "Each print or card includes a description of my experience."
Time and again, I was amazed at how affordable it all was, yet how abundant. Though they routinely sell out, Artlandish and the other Catacomb stores haven't been ravaged by Black Friday shoppers. They restock with artistic passion, and have gifts and art galore, a feast for the eyes and wallet. Let's face it: affordability is key these days, and handmade gifts are often so expensive they are out of range of most buyers. But not at the Catacombs.
Artists and artisans featured in this story:
Jackie Berry, Patty Cantu, Christy Gray, Pam Gruer, Karon Kuggler, Sharon Pendergraft