CONCORD -- Local artists say they have a secret they're willing to share. How do you beat the holiday rush this season? Give the gift of art.
And not just any art, but a piece created by artists who could be your next-door neighbors, the artists say.
One recent Sunday afternoon, while people are shopping at the mall, local artists Julie Christopher, Peggy O'Farell and Margie Ferguson gathered at the Art Cottage in Concord to talk to visitors about their artwork and encourage them to give original, handmade pieces as gifts this holiday season.
Christopher, a Martinez resident, has been making handmade wreaths decorated with vintage ornaments or origami.
She's given several of the one-of-a kind wreaths as gifts to family and friends.
"Because they're handmade, you're not going to get these at a department store or anywhere else," she said.
Ferguson, a jewelry designer who lives in Concord, said that instead of buying a fresh Christmas tree, she bought three of Christopher's handmade wreaths.
"So now I have Julie's artwork to show to guests instead of a tree," Ferguson said.
While O'Farell's mosaic designs aren't holiday-themed, she said that her garden art -- an example is a decorative piece made from recycled vases and glass coasters -- makes wonderful presents for residents who want to display original art pieces outside.
For Lafayette artist Geoff Meredith, giving something original, a work of fine art or craft, is a more sincere expression of thought than just buying something that many people can and probably will buy at a department store.
"It shows an appreciation for the skill of the artist or artisan and is somehow a more 'honest' gesture than getting something mass-produced on an assembly line, or extruded from a plastic mold," said Meredith. "Giving something one-of-a-kind makes the gift much more individualized and personalized and says something special about the relationship between the donor and the recipient."
The Valley Art Gallery in Walnut Creek and the Lafayette Art Gallery are featuring holiday gift boutiques this time of year, adding many smaller arts and craft gift items to displays of paintings, ceramics and sculpture, he said.
Many artists say they give work they've created and original art by others as a show of support.
Abstract painter Paula Boas invites those searching for timeless as well as unique gifts to see what local galleries have to offer.
"Valley Art Gallery has a wonderful selection of fine craft and art, created by local artists who are passionate about their work," Boas said.
"By gifting one of these unique items, the buyer becomes a patron of the arts. Their purchase supports local artists and the local community, and shares the passion of art with the recipient."
Valley Art Gallery brings back, by popular demand, the miniature 4-by-4-inch paintings the gallery's artists have created and donated, she said.
"These one-of-a-kind works of art make very affordable, memorable gifts," Boas said.
"They can be hung on the tree, placed on a small easel, or put in a frame."
All the proceeds from the sale of the miniature paintings go to support Valley Art's Gloria Marshall Award, a cash gift awarded each year in support of a deserving school arts program.
Along with paintings and photographs, works at galleries include handcrafted glass jewelry and ornaments, prints, holiday cards, turned-wood wine stoppers, hand painted silk scarves, and ceramic tableware and more.
Some local galleries with gift ideas: