LOWCOUNTRY ARTISTS GALLERY is one of those unique places that gives Charleston its cozy charm. Warm light glows from under crisp green awnings, and something fun always seems to be happening inside. The gallery is also Instagram famous for Charles and Zan Smith’s whimsical, person-sized copper frogs. For locals and return travelers, visiting the gallery is like visiting an old friend.
Lowcountry Artists Gallery first opened on Hasell Street in 1982 with 10 artists, then moved to its current location on East Bay Street. Recently renovated and expanded, today, the gallery shows works by more than 30 artists who are either local or have local ties.
Though Charleston is blessed with more than her share of excellent art galleries, Lowcountry Artists Gallery is a bit different. Instead of having one owner with one particular aesthetic, it’s owned and managed by nine diverse artists. The result is a medley of rotating work that appeals to a broad range of tastes.
Fer Caggiano is one of the owners, and one of the artists represented by the gallery. “Our repeat customers come from all over the country,” she says. “They always say it’s their favorite gallery in town. They love to visit every time they’re in Charleston so they can see what’s new.” Some of Caggiano’s luminous oil paintings depict Lowcountry scenes, but others reflect her Brazilian background and extensive travels.
The gallery is known as a go-to for Lowcountry art but also features contemporary art in many different mediums and styles. “This is a place for everyone,” Caggiano says. “Yes, we have the famous frogs! We also have beautiful miniatures, jewelry, watercolors, encaustic, pottery, sweetgrass baskets and handblown glass.”
Another owner, Norma Morris Cable, is a Sullivan’s Island native whose work is inspired by Charleston’s beloved Virginia Fouche Bolton, who was also her high school art teacher. Lynne Hardwick is an enthusiastic traveler who uses a variety of mediums in her expressive contemporary abstracts. Kellie Jacobs is a College of Charleston grad whose bright pastel landscapes are collected nationally and internationally. Artist and owner Rana Jordahl creates vivid still lifes in oil, and her peaceful chickens and cows are collector favorites.
Ivo Kerssemakers, a Murrells Inlet resident and Amsterdam transplant, is known for the dreamy feel of his long-exposure photographs, featuring local and international scenes. Stephanie Hamlet creates vivid works that are different at every viewing. Sandra Roper’s gracious watercolors capture Charleston’s culture, history and nature.
One of the striking elements about the gallery is that while most of the artists represented are award-winning, every one of them is vocal about their commitment to learning and growing as an artist. That is part of the secret sauce that keeps the gallery fresh; not only are guest artists invited to show new work, but your favorite artists are also continually evolving.
The gallery’s guest artists are a fascinating group in their own right. Ken Hamilton’s miniature constructions are just as magical on the 10th viewing as the first. Shelia Thompson’s cheeky farm animal paintings are delightful and funny, and Pete Rock’s ingenious sweetgrass tables may take your breath away.
Speaking of sweetgrass, Lowcountry Artists Gallery is also home to basket artist Marie Wine, who has been practicing the art since she was 6 years old. If you love the famous copper frogs, you’re really going to love sculptor Zan Smith’s new works in stainless steel.
Lowcountry Artists Gallery is the oldest artist-owned gallery in Charleston. It survived the Great Recession, when many galleries didn’t, and it remains a frequent stop for returning visitors and locals. The gallery is open daily, staffed by artists, and is sure to become one of your favorite haunts—if it isn’t already.
Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.