A Window on the South

BY JESSICA DYER

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Recently, I made the short 20-mile drive from Charleston to The Sanctuary Resort on Kiawah Island to visit its only fine art gallery: the Wells Gallery. The approach to the island, on a road arched with old live oaks and dotted by marshland, served, perhaps prophetically, to distance me even further from the hustle-bustle of the peninsula and prepare me for the artwork I was to discover.

The Wells Gallery originally opened its doors in downtown Charleston in 1993. Current owner Hume Killian, joined the gallery in 1998 and bought the business a year later, firmly establishing it as one of the premiere fine art galleries in what was then a burgeoning Charleston art scene.

As it was nearing completion in late 2003, The Sanctuary Resort approached Killian with a commission for an artist to create four large-scale murals for the new building’s two interior grand staircases. The resulting 22-by-28-foot paintings by artist Karen Larson Turner are stunning, and like 2-story windows they perfectly capture the soft, diffused light of Kiawah’s marshes in both the gathering and waning light of day. It was through this successful relationship that Killian was invited to open a gallery at the resort.

Last year, he made the decision to consolidate his two galleries into one and closed the Charleston location on Meeting Street. “People are relaxed when they come to Kiawah,” he says. “Art is such a wonderful luxury and they can take their time out here.”

Walking in the gallery, I am immediately impressed by its inviting atmosphere and the wonderful collection of work Killian has gathered together. The gallery exhibits work by roughly 20 established and emerging artists from all around the country. “I look for artists whose work I enjoy, that I want to sell and want to share, and that I can form good, long-standing relationships with, because it’s an intimate business,” Killian says.

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Many of the gallery’s artists capture the essence of Southern culture. One of Killian’s favorites, Sweet Tea, is a still life by Russell Gordon who specializes in a precise realism often mixed with whimsical detail. “It’s so Southern!” Killian exclaims with a smile (and I go on to discover that he is something of a sweet tea aficionado). Another realist painter, Sally Tharp employs unusual perspectives in her large-scale compositions such as In Repose that impresses with its deftly painted depiction of glass, which is notoriously difficult to render.

Fans of high-quality representational work are spoiled for choice—from the dramatic portraiture of Glenn Harrington and the thought-provoking scenes of everyday life by E.B. Lewis to the landscapes of plein air painter Rick McClure and the vibrant colors of one of Killian’s newest artists, pastel painter Marshall Noice. Those who typically gravitate toward the abstract won’t be disappointed, though. I was particularly taken with Twilight Marsh, Curt Butler’s gorgeous, textural oil and encaustic painting, with its horizon line only hinting at its roots in landscape. And there are Daniel Lai’s hanging wall sculptures, constructed from clay and discarded books, which he calls three-dimensional hieroglyphs of his experiences.

Though all of the artwork is unique, it is the location that brings much of it together. Artists and visitors alike can’t help but fall in love with Kiawah’s ever-changing environment, its tidal marshes and open, distant skies. “As an artist, you could set up on virtually the same spot every day and it would never look the same,” Killian muses. “The light is so special!”

With its wonderful collection of Southern-themed work and landscapes that capture the essence of the region’s natural beauty, the Wells Gallery is undoubtedly the best resource for capturing your own enduring memories of Kiawah.

Jessica Dyer is an arts professional, freelance editor and writer currently living in Charleston. Find out more at: linkedin.com/in/jessicadyer1.