Lawrence Wheeler, director of the North Carolina Museum of Art, holds his gift pick, a cookbook by Ashley Christensen. (Ted Richardson/For The Washington Post)

Lawrence Wheeler


The North Carolina Museum of Art

To Give: Despite my many travels, I’m always excited to return home amid the cultural reinvention of the North Carolina Museum of Art’s home city of Raleigh. I would gift an out-of-town friend a package that celebrates its entrepreneurial spirit with a Poole’s cookbook by chef Ashley Christensen, a gift card to the fashionable Raleigh Denim, and a stay at the fabulous Umstead Hotel and Spa in nearby Cary, N.C.

To Get: I need a tech inventor to step up for this one. I would like to have a left-brain stimulator, perhaps as goggles or a headset, that could be worn at art museums or exhibitions. It would open up hidden meaning, fantasy, harmony of the illogical, and fascinating personal revelations. To see the world as an irrational, but beautiful, place is a miraculous thing.

— Geoff Edgers

Executive director Mark Hudson is giving friends and family copies of the new book, “Tudor Place: America's Story Lives Here.” (Andre Chung/For The Washington Post)

Mark Hudson
Executive director
Tudor Place Historic House and Garden

To Get: I am hoping to receive the hottest ticket in town — not “Hamilton,” but the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Since its opening in September, the museum has been standing-room-only, expressing to me how vital it is to tell the story of the African American experience in a thoughtful, compelling and inspiring way. Like the thousands who have visited in the museum’s first 10 weeks, I seek to have the museum’s exhibitions instill a greater understanding of how all of our lives are interwoven, and how the human spirit can transform adversity into triumph. As a museum director, this experience will serve as my daily affirmation of the power of museums as our griots, bringing people together around our shared heritage. But if “Hamilton” tickets come my way, I will certainly take them as well!

To Give: Likewise, I have the joy of giving the gift of history this holiday season. By sharing the stories of the past, we help people understand how our lives are shaped by history and provide real connections to those who have preceded us. It is a joyful experience to introduce people to new ideas from the past. This year, I am doing so by giving copies of the new book, “Tudor Place: America’s Story Lives Here” to my family and friends. I hope I have not ruined any Christmas morning surprises by saying so.

— Philip Kennicott

Kirk Johnson Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History with an ammonites in Colorado. (Courtesy Kirk Johnson)

Kirk Johnson


Smithsonian’s National Museum
of Natural History

To Give: I’ve always been a sucker for beautiful fossils, (so) I like to give ammonites. They are the remains of animals that went extinct 66 million years ago. They are like sculptures from the past; they have this gorgeous symmetry and come in various sizes. Look at them and you see a world there that is kind of endless. They’re like little tweets from the past, telling you about worlds that are gone.

[Ammonites can be purchased, but Johnson prefers to find his own. Casual collectors searching on federal land are legally allowed to keep those they find, he said.]

They are relatively common, but hard enough to find that they are prized as well. I think it’s important for people to have fossils in their houses, to have a little rock that used to be a living thing 150 million years. That’s fun.

To Get: Most museum curators are object people. We live in a stuff world. As a museum director, I have the responsibility for a collection of 145 million objects. I know what happens when you have the nation’s largest whale collection. Because I oversee the nation’s collection, I have stopped making my own collection. I really treasure people, so my ideal gift is time with my close friends.

— Peggy McGlone

Ryan Brown founder, conductor and artistic director Opera Lafayette. (Naomi Reddert)

Ryan Brown

founder, conductor
and artistic director

Opera Lafayette

To Give: Brown would like to give his father, who is himself a pianist and conductor, a CD of Mahler songs recorded by the German baritone Christian Gerhaher. “Das Lied von der Erde,” Mahler’s symphonic song cycle, was “the last piece I played in [my father’s] orchestra before I went to college,” Brown says. “I have strong memories of it, which were brought back at [Gerhaher’s] Vocal Arts recital” earlier this month. He adds that his gift, personal though it is, has wider appeal. “Though my father loves this rep, it would be good for anyone, even if they think they don’t know, love or understand German very well — Gerhaher’s diction will likely change their minds!”

To Get: Brown’s own personal wish list focuses on the neglected operatic repertoire he is spending his career unearthing and recording — especially, this coming year, two operas on the same subject called “Leonore,” one by Pierre Gaveaux and one by Ludwig van Beethoven that was the first version of what became better known as “Fidelio.” Brown’s company is performing both versions in Washington and New York in 2017, starting with the Gaveaux in February; his wish, he says, “would be for someone to find Gaveaux’s second ‘Leonore’ aria — it’s in the libretto but not Gaveaux’s score.” Failing that, Brown has a simpler request to help him prepare for his “Leonore” staging rehearsals, which will be held in January — in Montreal. “I’d like to receive a Kanuk coat,” he says, referring to the warm garments made by the Canadian manufacturer — “some pretty fancy but effective winter wear!”

— Anne Midgette

The Washington Ballet’s Julie Kent. (Jesse Dittmar/For The Washington Post)

Julie Kent

artistic director and Former ballerina

The Washington Ballet

To Give: My husband, Victor Barbee [associate artistic director of Washington Ballet], and I both find a lot of comfort at Arlington National Cemetery. Both my dad and Victor’s dad are buried there, right around the corner from each other. It’s such a historic and meditative place. The Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns is so moving — there’s that divinity-in-dance theme, in the way they perform all those movements with such sobriety and respect. It’s devotional, and very, very beautiful. So I’d like to give our two children books about the history, ceremonies and design of the final resting place of their grandfathers, such as Rick Atkinson’s “Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery” and Robert M. Poole’s “On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery.”

To Get: I’m putting my office together here at the Washington Ballet, and at Capitol Consignment in Bethesda, my mom found a set of matching plush chairs — a local find that I’m seriously contemplating. They’re swivel chairs, in aqua blue, and a bit kitschy; probably from the 1950s or so. I want an eclectic feel, and in an office where I have mostly vintage black furniture, that pop of blue is kind of fun.

— Sarah L. Kaufman