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You're broke. The money-sucking holidays are coming up, and you've got to buy presents for a truckload of people, including a picky cousin whose house is already chock-full of stuff that's never used.

Fret not. We are blessed with hundreds of talented local artists whose handmade, utterly unique work is not only easy on the wallet, but also eco-friendly, whimsical, and a lot more appealing than a tie or Cross pen.

Yes, our shops and holiday shows are teeming with jewelry, scarves, hats, totes, paintings, prints, stationery, and other stuff that shout: "funky."

Handmade goods have been around for centuries, if not longer, but local artists say the movement — some would say craze — has exploded in tough economic times, with arty stores opening up on every corner.

Shoppers, it seems, are more discerning about how they spend their money, and artists unable to find traditional jobs are discovering that they can make decent cash selling their work. The push to boycott big-box stores like Walmart and buy local doesn't hurt either.

"With the job market being as unstable as it is, I know the appeal for me is to do something that is really basic, which is what I can produce with my own hands," says Kim Clark, a jewelry designer and founder of Rhody Craft 100, a Pawtucket shop that sells only local handmade art and craft. "Shoppers also feel like they're supporting the community, not the massive machine — the dehumanizing corporate world."

We selected a few artists who piqued our interest, but, remember, hundreds of gifts are there for the taking. Scoop them up now; those blood-red wool coasters you eyed for Uncle Bore — in need of a resting spot for his scotch — might be gone tomorrow.

CUTE AND TWISTED Thompson and friends.

If you buy one thing this holiday season, buy a Cody Thompson doll. If you can't buy one (a pity; maybe you should sell that Ramones album), then, at the very least, check out the 87 photos of his creations on his MySpace page.

But give yourself plenty of time to browse: the dolls are mesmerizing. With slit-like eyes, tubular noses, and buck teeth (all three of 'em), the manimals, as Thompson calls them, are irresistibly naughty and nice, with the naughty winning out more often than not.

"I like things that are cute, but also twisted," says Thompson, 33, who lives in the city's Reservoir neighborhood with his four-year-old Chihuahua, Furnace. "Good and evil."

As a latchkey kid growing up in Riverside, California, Thompson parked himself in front of his mother's sewing machine after school and taught himself how to sew. Mrs. Elton, a friendly Brit on the street, got him hooked on dolls.

After spending 10 long years studying drafting at a community college in the Golden State, he concluded that toiling in a cubicle was not for him and moved three years ago to Providence, where he works as a waiter at Olga's Cup and Saucer when he's not making dolls — like his bejeweled Calypso Glitter Wizard or blue-eyed teddy bear stuffed with intestines and brains.

"I've always been fascinated with skeletons and guts," says Thompson.

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