It’s cold. It’s windy. It’s snowing. It’s 22 days before Christmas in Ann Arbor, Mich., and for shopkeepers, gallery directors, working artists and hordes of eager holiday shoppers, conditions couldn’t be better.
Time your travel right, and you can take part in the city’s annual Midnight Madness on Main Street. Slated this year from 5 p.m. to midnight on Dec. 3, it kicks off Ann Arbor’s holiday season, and includes everything from special sales, snacks and rickshaw-riding Santas to sidewalk carolers, roving musicians and the official lighting of the famous Main Street tree lights.
Start your gallery stroll at the lower end of South Main Street, in the heart of the downtown shopping district. There you’ll find Clay Gallery (335 S. Main St.), a co-operative space opened in 1984 by a group of local potters.
“We started in a small location near the campus,” says director Royce Disbrow. “And through two additional moves we’ve inched our way downtown.” The gallery is deceptively long on the inside, with lots of tables and built-ins to showcase work by guild members. Work is all handcrafted, all locally made.
Next stop: the Carol Roeda Studio (319 S. Main St.). It’s one of two Michigan retail stores (the other is in Grand Rapids) owned by artist Carol Roeda. The shop features Roeda’s own whimsical artwork, plus work by local artists, and the Sticks line of handpainted furniture and art objects.
At the corner is Selo/Shevel Gallery (301 S. Main St.), opened in 1982 by owners Elaine Selo and Cynthia Shevel. “We may be prejudiced, but we think our gallery is on the best corner in downtown Ann Arbor,” says Selo. Inside you’ll find an extensive selection of contemporary American crafts. Best sellers at holiday time include hand-blown glass ornaments, menorahs, wood jewelry boxes, jewelry, scarves and ties.
Cross the street and head for WSG Gallery (306 S. Main St.), owned by 16 artists, and a showcase for fine art at affordable prices by 22 local artists. WSG caters to a whole spectrum of art lovers, says member artist Michelle Hegyi: those who come to browse, those following how a particular artist evolves, and those looking for exceptional quality, affordable fine art.
On the corner of South Main and West Liberty Streets is the Ann Arbor Art Center (117 W. Liberty St.), the third oldest arts organization in Michigan and host to year-round lectures, workshops and art exhibitions. The gallery shop features a wide selection of artwork, crafts and jewelry created by regional artists.
Keep going west on Liberty, then turn the corner to find Red Shoes (332. S. Ashley St.), a brightly painted and inviting little shop featuring vintage, cottage, folk and home goods. Practically everything here—furniture, pillows, soaps, cards—is handmade, and reflects the effervescent personality of owner/artist Catherine Thursby.
Now swing back to Main Street. On the 200 block, you’ll come to 16 Hands (216 S. Main St.), a 35-year-old Ann Arbor mainstay specializing in what co-owners Jill Damon and Rick Wedel describe as fine crafts and home furnishings “with conscience and soul.” The shop zigzags back and sideways, pleasingly stuffed with an enormous collection of objects by more than 400 artists, including jewelry, blown glass, wearable art and a selection of soaps, hand lotions and candles.
A few doors down is The Peaceable Kingdom (210 S. Main St.), another longtime Main Street institution opened in 1973. It’s a jumbled-up toy chest of a place, brimming over with all kinds of eye candy. Shelves and cases are loaded with everything from inexpensive stocking stuffers to wall-sized, one-of-a-kind “fabric pictures” by self-taught Ann Arbor area fiber artist Chris Roberts-Antieau.
At this point you can choose to walk the few blocks north and west of Main Street or take your car to historic Kerrytown, home of the Sunday Ann Arbor Artisans’ Market and an array of specialty shops featuring home decor, clothing, food, wine and art supplies. You’ll find Found (407 N. 5th Ave.), which opened in 2005, on the second level of Kerrytown Market & Shops.
Found defies categorization, says owner Mary Cambruzzi. Not quite a gift shop, antiques shop or true gallery, it combines elements of all three in what Cambruzzi defines as “a creative mix of fun finds,” including whimsical art, jewelry and gifts. For the holidays, Found transforms itself into a Christmas shop filled with everything from antique sleds and skis to handmade Santas, folk art angels and chocolate-filled candy canes.
Now walk down to Heavenly Metal (207 E. Ann St.). A highly personalized gallery/gift shop tucked inside Vicki’s Wash & Wear Haircuts, it is without doubt the quirkiest stop on this list, but owner Vicki Honeyman makes it work. Look for unique handcrafted items including jewelry, ceramics and recycled art.
Finally, head for the University of Michigan central campus and the Ann Arbor Potters Guild (201 Hill St.), a nonprofit cooperative of more than 50 working artists, to check out its open studios. The range of work includes functional pottery, sculpture and tiles. The guild holds two sales a year, with the next one scheduled on Dec. 4 and 5.
Last stop: the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s (525 S. State St.) stellar 53,000-square-foot expansion, designed by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture and opened in March 2009. Nighttime is the best time to visit: you can view the collections while you take in the sights and sounds of the campus after dark. With light streaming from its myriad windows and doorways, the university’s historic quadrangles and walkways look like an adult-sized version of the miniature village tucked under an old-fashioned Christmas tree.