Charleston is a city with plenty of transplants, but when you’ve been living here for as long as Rana Jordahl, it’s safe to say you’re a welcome local.
An artist and co-owner of the Lowcountry Artists Gallery, the Iowa native traded in the Midwest for the Lowcountry 20 years ago and has fully immersed herself in the booming art scene. Art shows, festivals, workshops, commissions and supporting artists through the gallery, Jordahl has found her place in the puzzle that is Charleston.
“It’s amazing to me how it’s changed over the years because now we have so many more galleries in town that are featuring nationally known artists,” she says of her walks through Charleston’s galleries. “People are just very giving in the artist community here, and it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
Jordahl grew up in a family of creators—someone was always painting, writing, drawing or crafting, and creativity trickled down to her. She enjoyed drawing too, but like many a young artist, she was encouraged not to pursue art as a career and instead earned a degree in advertising from Iowa State University. She worked in advertising for years, including a position at J. Walter Thompson in Atlanta, but shortly before moving to Charleston, she quit her job to start a family and explore a future in art. Jordahl had painted baby growth charts and other keepsakes for boutiques in the Atlanta area, and once she arrived in Charleston, she sought out classes and workshops to refine her skills.
Working in the back of a frame store in Mount Pleasant, the late Martin Ahrens guided Jordahl through her journey in oil painting. She also was taught by Elizabeth “Emmy” Bronson in McClellanville, South Carolina. To this day, Jordahl makes her way to the town every week for a group class to keep expanding her palette. “I credit her a lot for getting me where I am,” she says.
Growing up in the Midwest, Jordahl’s subject matter was cows, chickens and other farm animals. In her time in the Lowcountry, she’s shifted to the ponds and egret colonies on Daniel Island; quiet walks through Magnolia Cemetery to photograph herons, egrets, spoonbills, kingfishers and alligators; or the Pitt Street Bridge and Old Village in Mount Pleasant. At home, she tweaks the images in Photoshop and creates a more abstract backdrop so the animal is the primary focus of her composition.
“That helps me play around a little bit before I actually put paint on the canvas,” she says. “There are a lot of happy accidents that happen. And I don’t mean to say that I don’t plan things out, but I really do allow for a lot of experimentation when it comes to the backgrounds.”
Each of her pieces is rich with texture, a collection of brushstrokes and the marks of her palette knife coming together in shades to create the feathers of a heron tending to her nest or a cloud-covered sky over the Ravenel Bridge. Her work has been shown at the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition and the Oil Painters of America’s Eastern Show; this fall, her work was accepted a third time, with her painting White Tie Affair III on display in a Birmingham, Alabama, art gallery. This February, Jordahl will be a part of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition for the second year in a row.
With this exposure and as she’s explored social media more in recent years, Jordahl has started to take on more commissions. Popular requests include marsh wildlife and landscapes.
Jordahl is not just an artist but also the co-owner of the Lowcountry Artists Gallery in Charleston. She joined as an owner in 2007 alongside eight others—an honor, she says, as she was “pretty green at the time.” For almost 20 years, the gallery has survived good times and bad, supporting artists from a wide array of genres while providing art at an affordable price to visitors.
“It’s very eclectic, and I think that’s been the key to part of our success as a gallery, offering a lot of different styles and mediums and subject matters,” she explains. “We have everything from colored pencil to watercolor to acrylic to oil—you name it. We’ve got glass, ceramics, sweetgrass baskets, sculptures.”
All of these elements—original artwork, commissions and running the gallery—are reminders to Jordahl of why she moved to Charleston two decades ago.
“You have your shows, you have the gallery and then you’ve got commission work, and I’m thankful for all of them,” she says. “Really, they’re all little pieces of a puzzle.” *
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.