People always flock to museums when the holiday season comes around, and many of them never get past the gift shops.

Museum shops are stocked with unusual things: jewelry, books and cards, museum replicas and things you'll never find at the mall. The Cincinnati Art Museum shop is featuring the 2010 limited edition ornament based on the Miró mural and Rookwood-inspired tiles. The Taft Museum of Art shop has replicas of Victorian greeting cards and tree ornaments, while the Contemporary Arts Center has modern jewelry pieces and gifts, as well as artist-designed objects. Up the road, the Dayton Art Institute also has a not-to-miss shop.

But don't stop at the shops. There's plenty of art to see, too.

The Taft Museum of Art is one of the city's favorite holiday venues. It is a Victorian home, dressed for the season in holiday décor from days of yore. Antique Christmas at the Taft Museum, through Jan. 9, fills the house with such treasures as a feather tree (a traditional form of German Christmas tree) decked with vintage ornaments, a folded paper house filled with dolls, a German toy shop and a Noah's Ark, all from local private collections.

Also at the Taft is The Colors of Christmas: Victorian Paper Decorations. These brilliantly printed Christmas cutouts were used in homemade ornaments and decorations a century ago. Even Santa comes to see the wonders at the Taft. The jolly elf ushers in the season with hot chocolate, live singers and musicians in the galleries, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 26.

The Taft's December exhibition, Francisco Goya: Los Caprichos, features the 18th-century etchings that were the great Spanish artist's furious and darkly humorous reaction to human hypocrisy and pretense, from Dec. 3 through Jan. 30.

By the way, the Taft Museum of Art isn't the only Taft home decorated for the holidays. The William Howard Taft Birthplace, 2038 Auburn Ave. in Mount Auburn, is also worth a visit. Built circa 1835, the Victorian-era home of Alphonso Taft is decorated for the holidays as it was when the Taft family lived there. The home is operated by the National Park Service.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is launching the season with Holiday Extravaganza: Magical Music on Dec. 4, with Santa, live music and hands-on activities for the kids.

Its exhibitions include Heavy Metal: Arms and Armor through Jan. 16 and Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman through Jan. 2.

Youngsters will enjoy the fantasy of the age of knighthood recalled in Heavy Metal. But it is Gainsborough who is the star. Built around the CAM's Gainsborough master portrait of Ann Ford (one of the CAM's most important possessions), the show explores the Georgian era's idea of the modern woman with a gathering of great portraits and gowns from the time period.

You never know what to expect at the Contemporary Arts Center, especially with an exhibition that features paintings and motorcycles. Motorcycles/Rosson Crow will present new paintings and motorcycles customized by artist Rosson Crow, who is billed as a "bright, brash, young painter." It is all new work, created for this exhibition, opening Nov. 5.

Include the Dayton Art Institute on your list of "local" museums. This fall the DAI is showing 100 Years of African American Art through Jan. 30, celebrating African-American artists, many of whom worked under the extreme pressure of an unresponsive public. Dayton enhances the show with Marking the Past/Shaping the Present: The Art of Willis "Bing" Davis, one of the most influential black artists in the Midwest.
Owen Findsen, author and lecturer on the arts, is a member of the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame.