Present-Minded | Holiday Guide | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


An Interpretative Dance Choreographed in Your Honor: $10,000

How better to move someone, so to speak, than to commission an original dance work in his or her name? Creation and performance of a 20-minute piece for three dancers -- to honor your mom, say, perhaps set to her favorite music -- would require at least two months' lead time, says Beth Corning, artistic director of Dance Alloy Theater. Corning would start with sit-down interviews with the giver and (if it wasn't to be a surprise) the honoree herself. The artist's own engagement is crucial. "I better be attached to the idea or it won't work," she cautions, but such a project wouldn't differ much from her day job. "I make works inspired by a personal story," she says. or 412-363-4321


Blown-glass Artwork: $10-600

Struggling to find the perfect gift for an art-lover? If so, Drew Hine's Vessel Studio should help relieve your holiday stress. The 30-year-old artist and his staff can craft colorful blown-glass artwork -- plates, vases, bowls -- to your taste in two or three days, depending on the size and complexity of the design. Clients are invited to Hine's South Side workshop to pick color shades and describe their vision for the piece. 412-889-0662


Private Theater Rental With Classic Movie Screening: $1,200

Dad's favorite movie is Casablanca, but he's never seen it on the big screen. So throw him a holiday movie party. On nights when it isn't screening its own films, Pittsburgh Filmmakers will rent out its Melwood Screening Room, complete with projectionist, house manager, lobby and functioning popcorn-maker and soda fountain ($750). Director of exhibitions Gary Kaboly says a month's lead time is usually sufficient to reserve the theater. Additional refreshments, from a keg to a caterer, are on the renter, along with cleanup. And while the Melwood can handle most film and video formats, why not go all out and get Bogie and Bergman in their original celluloid splendor, with a 35 mm print (rental plus shipping would be about $450)? With 130 seats at your disposal, you could invite all the usual suspects and then some. or 412-681-5449


Hand-forged Iron Sculpture: $25 and way, way up

"Whimsical ironwork" is not a phrase you use often, but it describes the work of John Walter's Bloomfield gallery. Iron Eden crafts everything from coat trees to garden gates, and it also forges more fanciful items, such as a 5-foot-tall metal preying mantis that appeared in Storywalk 2008, the fantasyland reading event in Frick Park. Walter says that almost any custom project is doable -- provided it's made of metal and the money is right. A flower-garden stake could set you back only a few Hamiltons, while the mantis costs $1,200 and there's a $10,000 eagle on display in the gallery itself. Walter says that they can turn smaller projects out pretty quickly, but there's a two-month backlog for more complex original pieces. So if your heart is set on picking up a 2-foot-long iron trout for your significant other, it may have to wait until Greek Orthodox Christmas. or 412-621-1698


A Personal Keepsake Featuring Your or Your Family's Name: $9.99-89.99

"Your name is the first gift you're ever given," points out Melanie Tappe, the owner of Tappestree Gifts and Treasures, in Penn Hills. So what better basis for a new gift? Tappe starts with a name and breaks it down to find the true meaning, thanks to a database she maintains of more than 66,000 names. She then finds a corresponding verse -- secular or religious -- and packages it in a custom framed mat. The whole ensemble is completely personalized, and Tappe also offers several variations of a family tree that should elicit a few tears from mom. "My husband always says, 'If we don't make you cry, then we're not doing our job,'" Tappe explains. or 888-314-0333


Custom Zipper Pull: $12

So you're looking for something small but distinctive, but earrings are boring, and American-flag lapel pins are so last election cycle. This is where Carrie Nardini comes in: For the past seven years, the local craft-scene mover and shaker has focused primarily on zipper pulls -- those little handles you affix to the zipper of your sweatshirt or jacket (or your pants, if you like that sort of attention). She makes them from her own ideas or yours -- you can even give her an object to craft a zip-pull around. "People love certain animals" on their pulls, she explains, "and my favorite, the 'disco ball' zip-pull." Nardini organizes the city's periodic I Made It! craft fairs, and she sells online as well. Expect a custom job to be done in about 48 hours. "I have some frequent customers," Nardini notes. "I like to think they're collectors."


Custom Mosaic House Numbers: $90 (for three digits)

Pittsburgh is weathering the housing crisis relatively well, so you may have a friend or two who just bought and are looking to spruce their new environs up a bit. Jennie Stephens has their number -- literally. The Forest Hills artist makes custom mosaic house numbers for the discerning homeowner. Most of the specifications are decided by the customer -- color, images, size. Allow a little time; Stephens, a teaching artist at the Carnegie Museum of Art and Gateway to the Arts, says customers should expect to wait two to four weeks for


Custom Recycled Notebook: $10

When you think of "artist books," you might be thinking of books with content already in them. But Emily Levenson of Subu Rose, Inc. is a book artist of another sort: She makes custom notebooks and journals. You supply the specs -- size, colors, textures, any extras you want on the cover -- and she'll do the job. Then, of course, you (or your giftee) can supply the words. Levenson, of Oakmont, has been crafting professionally since 2006 and upholds high environmental standards: She uses 30 percent post-consumer recycled cardstock, and the pages are made of discarded printer paper. She utilizes as much secondhand material as possible, and uses hemp and linen threads to keep it natural. Small orders (of one or two books) are generally turned around within 48


A 12-foot-tall Bronze Statue of Your Loved One: $500,000

Sculptor Susan Wagner is perhaps best known for the Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell sculptures outside of PNC Park. But why not commission a statue of a loved one -- installed somewhere people want to go? From her Friendship studio, Wagner will sculpt figures hitting balls, trampling enemies underfoot, anything. (Well, not quite: She once turned down a commission from "a man who wanted something extremely obscene. He said there was a sculptor in Cleveland who would do it. I said, 'Well, that's where you should go.'") If a half-million bucks is too pricey, go with a smaller bust-sized work. But be prepared to spend time: Wagner consults clients throughout the creative process, and it takes time for the foundry to cast the final work. A large sculpture can take upwards of a year. "That shocks people," Wagner says. "They see on TV that you can get a room redone in a day." or 412-362-5990


Private River Cruise for Two: $3,500-5,500

Take your special someone on a private river cruise aboard the Gateway Clipper's Duchess or Princess. You get three hours of glide time anywhere navigable on the city's three rivers. No elbowing at the railing for a good view; you'll have run of the deck. The captain -- your captain -- will also pull over on request; popular stops include the Point and Heinz Field. The Clipper crew can also facilitate additional amenities to make the cruise super-swoony: dinner ($50), champagne ($40), lots of flowers ($100) and even a strolling violinist ($500). or 412-355-7965


Custom Bondage Gear: $75-250 and up

Nothing captures the holiday spirit of peace, joy and goodwill like custom-designed restraints, whips or floggers from Lawrenceville's finest hardware store/sex-toy den. Proprietor Don "Rubber Man" Harris says he can make top and bottom harnesses and other accoutrements d'amour in whatever color or configuration your heart desires. Your pieces could be finished while you wait, or within a few days after you provide measurements and color choices. Harris is happy to accommodate your wishes in leather, rubber or vinyl -- but don't ask him to mix materials: "That's like wearing white after Labor Day!" 5151 Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-782-6133


Five Hours of One-on-One Yoga Instruction: $300

For the experienced yogi or the new adept, the undivided attention of yoga teacher Richard Gartner is a gift that will resonate. Gartner's challenging style of teaching doesn't hew specifically to any one style. Rather, he brings an encouraging patience and attention to individual needs coupled with a deep understanding of physiology and anatomy. And even if you just want to stand on your head for a while, he can teach you how to do it safely and well. His classes and workshops at Schoolhouse Yoga can be broken into five hour-long sessions, or four 75-minute ones. or 412-567-3380


Recycled, Hand-painted Artwork: $60

Why bring new junk into the world when you can give a personalized present made from the gifts of yesteryear? Lindsay Woge, owner of Lawrenceville's Fresh Heirlooms, can be commissioned to make anything from salvaged and reused sources -- and can even teach you how to make your own "heirlooms." For the earth-conscious beverage drinker, get a custom sandblasted design on four glasses (cut down from old juice bottles) and a coordinating hand-painted tray (around $60, depending on complexity). A toast to being eco-friendly! 5218 Butler St., Lawrenceville. or 412-512-5098


Custom Ceramic Lamp: $80-125

Sales of the leg lamp from A Christmas Story probably go up around this time of year, but you can get your own custom lamp base at Kiln-N-Time in whatever form you or your gift recipient desire. Lawrenceville artist Sandy Simon can custom-make nearly anything from ceramic/clay and customize glass items from mugs ($30) to larger glass mosaic murals ($350-10,000) like the ones that can be seen at the North Side's Pittsburgh Project. Keep a loved one out of the dark! 3801 Penn Ave., Lawrenceville. or 412-687-0383