Artful displays of vacation souvenirs

Artful displays of vacation souvenirs
A Mexican fish costume found in Puerto Vallarta looms over Bruce Anderson between the dining room and kitchen of his home in Sierra Madre. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

If you're one of those travelers who returns with a suitcase full of mementos, a challenge awaits: You probably want to display your pieces from the trip that evoke meaning and memory. But you don't want your home to resemble Aisle 4 at Pier I Imports. Here are three examples that work.

To the brim


Jan Stanton Holz and her husband, Richard, have filled their two-bedroom Brentwood home with odd and traditional items collected during their travels. Most of the antique furniture and the white dinner service and accessories came from Western Europe, and Thomas Callaway Associates orchestrated the design.

The overall look of the 1930s storybook cottage is basic yet elegant — and very warm. Despite the mementos — or perhaps because of them — everything about the home feels authentic.

A close examination reveals delightful surprises: An 1880 mechanical French diorama of a monkey band hangs on a wall just off the living room. A wind-up key gets the whole bespectacled, well-tailored crew playing.

"My parents got that in London, and my children, small at the time, just loved it — and still do," says Stanton Holz. "And now the grandchildren love it."

Stanton Holz, once a hat designer for film and television, has dedicated an upstairs room to millinery she's collected. Vintage hand-painted hat boxes, hat blocks, a dress form and a milliner's chest and sign fill the room –- from visits to the Old Haberdasher on London's Portobello Road. In other parts of the house, antique hat stands have been re-purposed as floor and table lamps, 19th century wood and tin hat boxes top the refrigerator in the kitchen, and there's an oversized tin top hat inscribed with "Top hats" above the stove.

Stanton Holz's walk-in closet gleams with old-world elegance: 14 Edwardian-era silver dance purses, all fitted with finger rings, hang around a 1920s wood-framed mirror. Most are from London.

"She would buy them for me, and I'd buy them for her," says Stanton Holz of her mother, Barbara Kirshner, who possessed a "black belt in shopping. We always tried to one-up the other.

"We thought they summed up a time of grand balls and ladies in gowns. Whenever I see them, it takes me back to those days — and the joy of discovering something beautiful and precious together."

Big fish

While browsing in a folk art shop in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in 2001, Bruce Anderson was startled to see hanging from the ceiling a sizable old fish figure with an odd hole in its middle.

"It was one of those impulse buys," says Anderson, who tried to imagine the curiosity hanging in his three-bedroom, 1960s Sierra Madre home.

The proprietor told Anderson that such carved, wooden "costumes" were worn during folkloric dances in Guerrero state in the hopes of securing an abundant fish harvest.

The costume's face — half man, half woman — shares a middle eye. The man's half is bearded; the woman's wavy hair flows down her side of the back. Fish earrings dangle from each of their ears.

"I found that so cool," says Anderson, a healthcare executive.


Anderson used filament line to hang the nearly 6-foot-long costume from his 11-foot-high pine ceiling, positioning it in an open space between the kitchen and dining room. The large souvenir — its arms held straight forward, its palms facing down –– is artfully positioned at a steep, tilted angle that reveals its scaled back and tail, which are hand-painted in brilliant shades of blue, yellow and vermilion. The costume is wreathed by clerestory windows, and the figure's colors pop when struck by the afternoon sun.

"It looks like it's being thrown down from on high," says Anderson, who paid $500 for the piece.

Moreover, the figure is the first thing guests see when entering the home's main kitchen entrance during Anderson's dinner parties: "People come in and say, 'Whoa! What's flying out of the ceiling at us?'"


Travel extensively and you'll no doubt start a collection or two, with some objects so small that they may land forever unseen in a drawer.

Film and television costumer and stylist Luke Reichle solved that problem after he arranged his collection of milagros — Latin American religious charms that are commonly made of tin and shaped like body parts — inside a frame and attached others onto a late 19th century wool derby hat worn by Joel Grey in the 1995 film "The Fantasticks."

The brown derby with a pale, grosgrain ribboned bow was "nicked from Western Costume," Reichle says, after he served as the movie's costume designer. The hat, he adds, seemed an intriguing way to display the milagros.

Reichle grew intrigued by the charms when he worked as a costume designer on the 1994 film "The Scout." He chose to cover a baseball uniform worn by actor Brendan Fraser (who portrayed a pitcher in the film) with about 300 milagros.

"That was when I started the major part of my milagro hoarding," says Reichle, who lives in a 1960s two-bedroom apartment overlooking Hollywood.

His collection totals 75 but at its peak reached 750 milagros before he gave many away as gifts. "I got a little crazy," says Reichle, founder of Secrets of the Red Carpet, a personal style and dressing brand.

Reichle paid from 10 cents to $50 each for the milagros, sourced mostly in Latin American countries as well as in Italy. Several are standard fare: kneeling children, legs and sacred hearts; rarer finds include a pair of lungs, a throat, a truck (referencing an accident) and a pair of arm-in-arm tuxedoed men.

"I always loved the idea of them, the visual manifestation of someone's faith," says Reichle, who grew up Roman Catholic in Holtville, Calif., 10 miles from the Mexican border. "I'm now a Buddhist, but I like having these around just in case there's an afterlife."

Can't travel? Shop online for artisan souvenirs

You're traveling and yearn to shop but have no money for extras. Or perhaps you find yourself vacationing in the comfortable confines of your home, thus limiting the souvenir possibilities. You might want to consider purchasing artisan clothing, décor, art and other products from around the world. These online global markets subscribe to basic fair trade practices, support artisans through various programs and include artisan profiles and stories.

Gifts With Humanity offers handmade goods via 30 artisan groups working in 13 countries. The product line features clothing and accessories, "cultural treasures," jewelry, handbags, tableware and home décor, all shipped from the U.S. The products also can be found at 1,000 retail locations, from museums to farmers markets.

GlobeIn sells apparel, accessories, jewelry, home décor and other gifts from 45 countries. The company works with partners in the U.S. and overseas that coordinate with various artisan groups.

Novica offers jewelry, clothing, home décor, art and other gifts shipped from its regional outposts in the Andes, Bali and Java, Brazil, Central America, India, Mexico, Thailand and West Africa.


Ten Thousand Villages sells jewelry, textiles, home décor, art and sculpture, serving pieces and accessories made in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. The company also operates 80 stores, plus there are 500 other stores in the U.S. that carry its products.

Toms Marketplace, yes, that Toms, the company that gives a pair of shoes for every pair it sells, also sells clothing, accessories, décor and coffee from Africa, Asia and North and South America. Searches can be filtered by region, product category or cause (education, health, women, social justice and others).