Ask anyone who has turned a dream into reality and she will tell you that it takes diligence and determination to stay the course. In this city, no one knows that better than Ella Richardson. She is living proof that perseverance is the key to success. Richardson is the owner of Ella Walton Richardson Fine Art located in the heart of Charleston’s historical Arts District.
Another part of what makes the gallery so exquisite is Richardson herself—her outlook on life and her joy in connecting with people. Today, she is candid with me about the wild ride she’s experienced over the past two decades. She spoke of starting her own business and of helping the late John Doyle, one of Charleston’s most beloved artists, open his gallery in 1997.
On the day we meet, the city is exhaling after a brush with Hurricane Florence. “I have weathered storms,” she says, “… literally and figuratively.” Indeed, Richardson is no stranger to economic maelstroms. Against advice, she opened the gallery in 2001 shortly after the September 11 tragedies.
One of the artists she opened with was Russian-born painter Aleksander Titovets, who friends found as an odd choice for a gallery in the heart of the Deep South. “At the time, mostly local artists were represented in Charleston,” Richardson says. “And here I’m representing an international artist known for his snow scenes. People thought they would never sell in Charleston. They thought I was crazy.” Apparently, she’s crazy like a fox, because those snow scenes were her top seller for years.
Just six years into business, The Great Recession hit, and it hit Charleston hard. “The gallery survived on one little miracle after another, one day at a time,” Richardson says. In a rare peek behind the curtain of the fine art world, she shares stories about how people banded together to keep the gallery going through that dark time, during which many downtown businesses closed.
Her passion and faith have carried her through the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. She is wholeheartedly dedicated to sharing the intangible magic of art and the way that it can bring people together.
“One of the best and most unexpected gifts of owning this gallery is the friendships I’ve developed with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” she says. Richardson not only gets to know her clientele personally, she stands by the artists she represents. Her compassion is the bridge between the works on the walls, the artists who create them, and the collectors who display them in their homes and businesses.
“Fine art is an investment that will never let you down,” she says. “It’s not like purchasing a fancy car or other objects of desire. No matter the economy or what is going on in the world, if a work of art moves your soul, it will keep giving something back to you—and your reward will be different each day.”
As for the various “storms” Richardson has weathered over the years? “I still love what I do,” she says. “I’m passionate about it, and I will do it as long as I’m meant to.” And we hope that’s a long, long time.
Robin Howard is a full-time freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.