As the head of merchandising at the Brooklyn Museum, it is my responsibility, along with my staff, to keep the Museum shop stocked with a wide range of items that relate to our permanent collections and the special exhibitions that we present here. I recently returned from attending the New York Gift Show, which consumes the entire Javits Center plus 3 Hudson River Piers featuring over 3000 gift product booths. If you walk every aisle, it can be over 8 miles long! Every year, I attend the show with my staff for several long days in search of the latest new products, hottest designs and trends, and most importantly merchandise that represents the upcoming exhibitions. The most recent trade show challenge for us? Caillebotte.
“Who” asked the vendors?? “Gustave Caillebotte”…”Who is he?? Can you spell his name??” So, my immediate reply was to say “you know this artist—he was an Impressionist painter who worked in the late 19th century along with Renoir, Monet, and Sisley.” Usually I still did not get any recognition from my suppliers, so I would continue… “You know his work—his most well known painting is the “Paris Street, Rainy Day” painting from the Art Institute of Chicago—you know the one with the man in the tall top hat with the umbrella”….and VOILA, …I finally would see some recognition. So, having accomplished vendor identification of the artist, now we are on to whether there was any product availability that would suit our needs.
Since most of the paintings in this upcoming exhibition are from a private collection, there is very little existing product with such images available and this means we will have to create custom products. As is the case with this particular example, we often seek out suppliers who can customize product with art images from an exhibition and these custom products might include posters, jewelry, sculptures, t-shirts, mugst, stationery products, etc. etc.
In addition to the custom assortment, we always search for related products that convey more knowledge or tell a story about the artist and the mileu in which he works. In the case of Caillebotte, we had a lot to consider. From reading the catalog and interviewing the curator, Judith Dolkart, we learned not only that he was a highly skilled Impressionist painter, but he also was an avid top notch sailor who innovated and designed racing boats as well as an avid gardener. All three of these facets of his life led us to look for related products and vendors who carried nautical books, gifts, boat models, floral and garden supplies. The aim is to set the ambiance in our Museum Shop by featuring the artist’s color palette, his period in art, his subject matter.
In our search for specially related product, I received a phone call introducing a new potential product referred to me from our Education Department. It turned out that a local Brooklyn vendor, Reiter8, who makes one of a kind tote bags from used canvas sails was going to do a workshop during the Caillebotte exhibition. It was a perfect fit for the Caillebotte’s merchandise assortment—the product was related to the show, made of recycled materials, and from a local Red Hook artisan. I leave you to enjoy this video from this vendor and hope you will visit the Museum Shop during the Caillebotte show.
Sallie has been the Vice Director of Merchandising for the Brooklyn Museum since 1994. Her job responsibilities cover all retail and wholesale activities, mail order and e-commerce, rights and reproductions and licensing business. Her department is primarily responsible to manage all revenue generating activities on behalf of the Museum. Beside the primary goal of generating income, the department's other priority is to promote the Museum's brand name and identity with licensed and custom reproductions and products based on the Museum's collections and special exhibitions. She has served over 5 years on the Board of the Museum Store Association, most recently as President in 2007.