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What to Give

Recommendations from Richmond creatives.



Antonio J. Garcia

Director of Jazz Studies, VCU

As a musician and professor, Garcia says he and his wife, Maria, enjoy giving the gift of music to friends with children. "There are so many wonderful recordings of world music, lullabies from around the world, and selections from the jazz and classical catalog that are soothing or stimulating for kids," he says.

And when he's on the receiving end, it's music he's got on his list too. "Some of my favorite gifts to receive have been instruments from other cultures," he says. "I am particularly fond of African and South American instruments and have also given them as gifts." Now don't worry about how you're going to learn to play that didgeridoo. Garcia says, "You don't have to be a professional musician to enjoy playing a talking drum, or an mbira [thumb piano], a carved whistle, or Bolivian goat nails!" He suggests going to one of his favorite places to shop, Ten Thousand Villages in Carytown.

"I may be a trombonist," he says, "but I own far more percussion instruments than anything else."

Frits Huntjens

Chef-Owner, 1 North Belmont Restaurant

As the chef-proprietor of the newly opened 1 North Belmont Restaurant, Huntjens (with chef Mark Herndon) offers dishes that are a study in aesthetics: pleasing to the eye and to the palate. For that kind of feat, the right tools help.

He recommends Global Knives, which rate as a "good midrange" when compared to other cutting utensils. If your range is higher than mid, consider a new range—a stove, that is. Huntjens suggests Wolf and Viking, the top of the line in elegant appliances.

When thinking about what to buy that chef in your life, Huntjens suggests "the nicer olive oils or maybe vinegar that's been produced by an artisan." He recommends artisan-made products because they're crafted "in smaller quantities, with more passion."

For cooking inspiration, Huntjens suggests giving the gift of literature. "The Culinary Institute of America puts out a cookbook that's sort of on the leaner side of things," he says, thinking of the health-conscious cook. He also endorses Jacques Pepin's "The Apprentice," the story of the life and work of the chef, peppered with good recipes.

Or if you like the idea of cooking without the work, Huntjens recommends hiring a personal chef for a night. The chef will usually cook for six to eight people on that brand-new Wolf range of yours.

Ashley Kistler

Curator, Hand Workshop Arts Center

Kistler is responsible for bringing national and international art to the Hand Workshop, like the recent bamboo exhibit and the project in which photographer Wendy Ewald made banners with young Carver students that hang throughout the neighborhood. Kistler said she brainstormed ideas with HWAC board member Julie Boyd. The two came up with a variety of ideas all over the map and the price scale.

In no particular order: "A weekend trip to NYC to see the new Museum of Modern Art; commission a portrait from Howldog Studios by Wolfgang Jasper; visit Maurice Beane's Shockoe Bottom gallery on Main Street for mid-century modernist treasures; visit Astra Designs for custom-made furniture by local artist Tom Chenoweth as well as other art objects. The One-Off Richmond printmakers is a wonderful group of artists with affordable prints. There's always a Hand Workshop gift certificate for a class."

Kistler says she always likes a good book, but that Richmond still needs a bookstore with a good art section. Until then she suggests the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts store and the shop at the Virginia Historical Society, or Black Swan. "I go there just to browse, not specifically for art books, but they've got some of everything."

Karen Fitzhugh

Founder, Polkadot Arts

Fitzhugh, who has organized many collaborative arts events in town, works primarily with the homeless. Her organization, Polkadot Arts, gives the homeless an artistic outlet. So it makes sense that Fitzhugh is creative when it comes to gift-giving.

"I think the best gifts to give and to receive are simple and sentimental," she says. "A personal letter or a one-of-a-kind something homemade is always special."

Fitzhugh is flowing with ideas:

"Frame a coaster from a place you and your special someone once visited and had a great time. Make a list of the 10 reasons you love someone, print it up, create a collage on a pre-cut mat and frame it. I collect small objects, such as shells, matchbooks, ticket stubs, of course anything polka dotted, and turn them into magnets for my refrigerator. I have even used a lobster claw from a trip to Boston and a cork from a bottle of wine from my first art opening. It's a neat way to remember special times. I have my two children make all their gifts for teachers and grandparents." She suggests soap, decorated frames, plant pots, ornaments, cards, framed artwork, or a framed handwritten letter.

But the intangible is important too. "I feel the gift of making time is important," she says. "Make it a point to make plans with someone you have not seen in a while, then make plans again." Fitzhugh also encourages people to give to the homeless and to remember that they also need your help at other times of the year.

d.l. Hopkins

Actor, Host, Just Poetry Slam!

"You can never go wrong by buying a kid some comic books! It provokes, challenges and opens a whole new world of imagination that will last a lifetime," he says, recommending Nostalgia Plus at the Shops at Willow Lawn.

For bigger kids, he suggests "A History of God" by Karen Armstrong and "Poetry Speaks," which comes with three CDs. He adds, "Speak with your dollars and support local business," such as Cafe Gutenberg ("God's own book store — I hear He is partial to the chai tea") and Carytown Books ("You can't go wrong").

Hopkins wants you to get out into the world. "Forget about moving pictures, watch life move right before your eyes. Give the gift of local theater to loved ones," he says, citing The Firehouse Theatre Project, Barksdale Theatre and Living Word Stage.

Julia Battaglini

Owner, River City Cellars Inc.

This Carytown wine and beer store has become a quiet little Mecca for the residents of the Fan. Quiet, that is, until their beer tastings on Wednesdays and their wine tastings on Fridays. Battaglini says now is the time when a lot of good winter beers are hitting the market and when a cheese and bread tray will liven up any holiday party.

"There's so many wonderful new beers coming out," she says, naming the Weyerbacher Winter Ale, the St. Feuillien Cuveé de Noel and the Delirium Noel, all under $10, as a stout way to keep warm through those long winter nights.

To ensure guests remain festive at your parties, break out the Henriot champagne, "such a great value" at $35. Make sure your people have some nibbles, like Virginia peanuts or a hunk of the English blue cheese Colston-Bassett Stilton, along with Antiche Panettone, an Italian holiday bread, all under $20.

To keep people up to speed at those wine tastings (or just to understand the movie "Sideways"), Battaglini says, "'The Wine Avenger' is a great stocking stuffer."

Her own wish list is simple enough: "A good knife and stone to go with it ... and somebody to teach me how the hell to do it."

James Parrish

Co-founder, Richmond Moving Image Co-op

Parrish has worked to bring independent film to town through the James River Film Festival and the bimonthly Flicker short film festival that encourages aspiring filmmakers to contribute short pieces. He has big ideas when asked what he wants for the holidays. "My dream gift is to give Richmond a media arts center that would offer classes and workshops for those interested in independent media, editing facilities and production equipment," he says. And he's not finished. "And a downtown independent movie theater that would show the latest independent and alternative films, screen locally made media, and host film festivals and film tours."

He says Richmond needs this gift "because in this age of media consolidation, with fewer venues/outlets for alternative and independent media voices, we need places and organizations that encourage, cultivate and showcase the true independents! America is much more diverse and culturally interesting than the America represented in the mainstream media."

For those who might not be able to manage those gifts, Parrish also had some suggestions for stocking stuffers. "I'd recommend any DVD put out by Criterion ( They've released a Stan Brakhage collection, which I have, and lots of other classic films, like Hitchcock's 'The 39 Steps,' Spike Lee's 'Do the Right Thing,' the Maysles brothers' 'Salesman,' Kurosawa's 'Rashomon,' Cassavetes' classics, et cetera." S

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