Last week, I set out curious to find a sampling of the most unique Valentine’s Day gift options, but what I came back with was a list full of things I would lust after any day of the year. I found that shopping in the Greater Raleigh area has become an aesthetically stimulating experience and something of an artistic treasure hunt. A smathering of art gallery/specialty gift shops have opened around town, offering wares from local artisans and craftsmen who create unique goods to adorn your home, body and beyond. I hunted for -- and found -- a gamut of handcrafted, original pieces that all come at quite reasonable prices.

With “buying local” becoming an ever-popular trend, shops and restaurants feel the pressure to offer locally sourced foods and goods to patrons who are increasingly environmentally aware and passionate about supporting the local economy and arts.

[caption id="attachment_3956" align="aligncenter" width="345"]Raleigh bike tee by Fly Trap Raleigh bike tee by Flytrap[/caption]

Epona and Oak, a boutique in City Market in downtown Raleigh, carries  a profusion of handmade goods, most of which are created in the Raleigh area. The shop is owned and operated by the three Hines sisters whose goal is to help support local artisans, as well as provide wellness support to the community and promote earth-friendly products and business practices.

Among the lines the Hines’ offer is Flytrap. The company, run by sweethearts Jody Cedzidlo and Eric Haugen, has had me swooning over their designs since I first laid eyes on their signature Raleigh, NC bike tee more than two years ago. Their hand-printed tees and scarves also display hip animals like yellow paisley t-rexes and zebra striped elephants, flowers and other geometric designs.

It’s hard not to leave Epona and Oak without one or two Vespertine necklaces by local artist Ginna Earl. The necklaces, which come in silver, gold and colored enamel, bear a charm in the shape of The Old North State with a tiny cutout heart  over Raleigh’s position on the map.

[caption id="attachment_3955" align="aligncenter" width="345"]N.C. map necklace by Vespertine N.C. map necklace by Vespertine[/caption]

Who was it that said “form follows function?” For a taste of true Carolina pottery, check out the work of seasoned potter Rosanne Schenck, whose Limits Keep line features handmade earthenware that is as beautiful as it is functional. This is art for use in everyday life, art to enhance as mundane an experience as eating breakfast. The platters, bowls, plates and vessels come in a variety of unique shapes and colors, many of which are pressed with actual leaves before the pottery is fired so the memory of an organic shape is imprinted in the clay.

[caption id="attachment_3953" align="aligncenter" width="345"]Limits Keep handmade pottery Limits Keep handmade pottery[/caption]

Designbox, an office and retail space on Martin St., deems itself “Raleigh’s Home for Inventive Culture and Creative Community.” Designbox is a treasure trove for affordable, artsy finds. Companies such as Gamil Designs, Jenkins Architecture and Joulebug keep offices in the back of the building, where an open floor plan creates a collaborative, creative work environment. Towards the front is a shop and gallery space, built to showcase inspiring local design and craft via innovative brands, ideas and products. Among the finds discovered on my last trip to Designbox were candles by Green City Bottles, a company that turns local bar trash into crafty home décor, heart-shaped metal rings from Zulu and Steph, and funky plastic earrings made from up-cycled scrap plastic by Mine and Bawdy. Wallets and shoulder bags made from old Delta Airlines seats and John Deere rubber tubes are innovative designs by Tierra Ideas.  And for wall adornment, check out Matt Butler’s cheeky hand-carved linocut prints and Keith Norval’s wacky animal art  featuring flying pigs, T-bone the mad cow and Hieronymous Bob, the quintessential modern man.

[caption id="attachment_3957" align="aligncenter" width="460"]Print by Matt Butler Print by Matt Butler[/caption]

Deco, another specialty shop on Hargett St., offers a plethora of colorful original art and design objects. From jewelry crafted with glass beads to funky knitted scarves, hand-dyed silk scarves, pottery and paintings, most of Deco’s goods are handmade and one-of-a-kind. My favorite Deco items are those from CityFabric, a company with a mission to build community and civic pride for Raleigh through apparel and design tools. Deco’s tees, totes and wall prints feature a topical cartographic view of Raleigh. I gave these as Christmas presents, and afterwards spent many interesting minutes lying on the ground with my equally nerdy friends scrutinizing the grid to find our houses and other Raleigh landmarks.

[caption id="attachment_3954" align="aligncenter" width="345"]Raleigh map print by CityFabric Raleigh map print by CityFabric[/caption]

If you have to pick up a seriously last-minute surprise for your V-day sweetie, are in need of some artsy retail therapy or just want to explore what Raleigh’s local artists and crafters have to offer, downtown Raleigh shops have something for you. Inventory is ever-changing as the artists are always creating new products and tweaking old ones.