WHEN M.K. WONG was hired to manage the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s new and expanded gift shop, she harbored lukewarm feelings about museum gift shops in general. They need “a kick in the pants,’’ she says.
So if you’re looking for mass-market reproductions of art on mugs, cards, and umbrellas, Gift at the Gardner may not be your best bet. There will be a few such staples, but they will be “tasteful,’’ says Wong, who left a job managing a gift store inside New York City’s high-end ABC Carpet & Home for the Gardner position.
Coasters with images of tiles from the museum that were popular in the former gift shop will be returning, as will a revamped tote bag emblazoned with a French phrase that Mrs. Gardner liked, “Pense moult, parle peu, ecris rien.’’ (Think much, speak little, write nothing.)
With 2,000 items for sale, the new shop will offer a wide range: everything from $6.50 hand-drawn note cards to a $70 gold-plated bunny and a $500 sterling silver cuff engraved with a quote from Marcel Proust (“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners that make our souls blossom’’). All the products fall into at least one of the museum’s five program areas: historical art, contemporary art, music, education, and horticulture.
“It’s taking the essence of the museum and finding it in each product,’’ Wong says.
Wong also wants to spark curiosity by creating interesting vignettes. When you’re at the shop, look for a pair of bird feet cast in pewter alongside a porcelain horse chestnut on top of an open book, all under a glass dome.
Says Wong: “We want to have conversations with the customer.’’