When it comes to gift giving, some people are just plain impossible to buy for. When you ask for a wish list, they tell you they don’t need a thing. Or maybe you don’t feel comfortable asking for a wish list. We have someone like that in our family. For a while we were exchanging gift cards, which seemed silly. Then one year as we were traveling in early December, browsing through gift shops, I had an idea. Why not fill a basket with goodies produced in the state we were visiting? So that year we gave this person a basket filled with locally-made wines, cheeses, honey and other edible treats. It was a big hit. Since then, I’ve been on the lookout for unique gift ideas whenever I travel.
Locally produced foods are always a good gift option. However, sometimes you want to gift a loved one with something more substantial. I’ve found that galleries, artisan studios, independent shops, and museum stores are filled with gift items.
Amana Woolen Mill
In that vein, this year Travel Iowa, the state’s tourism office, launched a promotion called “Made in Iowa.” The Made in Iowa web page features videos on places like the Amana Woolen Mill in the Amana Colonies, where they weave everything from warm winter scarves to blankets and tote bags.
The Kaleidoscope Factory
Another Made in Iowa video features Leonard Olson, artisan-owner of The Kaleidoscope Factory in Pocahontas. Yes, kaleidoscopes. Who wasn’t enthralled as a child by a kaleidoscope’s brilliant colors moving about with geometric perfection as you rotated the toy? Far from the cheap cardboard version you experienced as a child, Olson carves his kaleidoscope from wood and use marbles or even corn to produce the kaleidoscopic designs.
Mississippi River Distilling Company
Although I haven’t had an opportunity yet to visit the Amana Woolen Mill or The Kaleidoscope Factory, I did visit the Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, also featured on the Made in Iowa web page. Mississippi River Distilling Company is the first craft distillery Skip and I ever visited. All of the grains used in the distilling process are grown within 25 miles of the distillery.
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After a short distillery tour, we sampled some of their products. My husband, a bourbon fan, bought a bottle. To tell you how much he liked it, a year or so later, headed home from southwest Wisconsin, we took a detour. We drove an hour out of our way to pick up another bottle of bourbon.
More Made in Iowa Suggestions
Isabel Bloom, located in Davenport, specializes in cement sculptures. Although Isabel Bloom, the artist, is no longer living, her legacy lives on. Donna Young, who studied under Bloom, now serves as the studio’s sole designer. Make an advanced reservation, and you can tour the studio before browsing the shop.
The Bentonsport Historic District, first developed by Mormon craftsmen as they migrated west in the mid-1800s. Today, the old bank building is the Bentonsport Artisan coop, where you’ll find high quality, local made handcrafted items. Down the road, Iron & Lace carries a unique combination of pottery, hand-woven rungs and hand-forged ironwork by husband-and-wife team Bill and Bety Printy.
How about a gift of experience? The Villages Folk School, spread over twelve communities in Van Buren County, offers over a hundred classes, ranging from basket weaving to blacksmithing. There is no formal school building. Instead, many of the classes are held in the artists’ and artisans’ own studios or homes. Others are held in restored historic buildings throughout the county.
More about Made in Iowa Products
These are just a sampling of made-in- Iowa unique gift ideas. For more suggestions, visit the Travel Iowa Made in Iowa website. It’s fun to experience these places in person. However, most also have online stores, so you can also purchase items from the comfort of home.
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