Peek inside this charismatic Pawleys Island gallery and discover a veritable art lover’s paradise by the sea


Paula Robertson, Tears for My Brothers and Sisters II, watercolor on yupo paper, 14" x 11"
Paula Robertson, Tears for My Brothers and Sisters II, watercolor on yupo paper, 14″ x 11″

Situated on South Carolina’s beloved Pawleys Island, a quaint shop endearingly named Island Art Gallery has become a go-to destination for vacationers and locals alike seeking that special, one-of-a-kind memento from this storied East Coast isle. With salon-style hanging and tiny-to-oversize works in various mediums and genres, the gallery houses work by 24 painters, a furniture maker and enough creative work to keep an art lover happy for hours on end.

Listed on Trip Advisor’s Top 10 places to visit in the area, Island Art Gallery resides in a quaint 1,100-square-foot restored house originally built in the early 1900s. It was moved and incorporated into the Village Shops in the heart of Pawleys Island’s shopping district, with the Hammock Shops to one side and The Island Shops across the street. The historic one-story building’s tall ceilings, hardwood floors and airy openness create a beautiful, breezy setting to display fine art.

“I began showing my work at Island Art Gallery in 2009 when artist Jim Nelson partnered with Betsy McDonald and moved his existing gallery from Litchfield to Pawleys Island,” says managing artist and co-owner Kelly Atkinson. “Having owned a gift and antiques store for 11 years while raising my three sons, I learned a lot about running a small business. In 2010, I began teaching the open studio class weekly and gradually became involved in other aspects.”

In 2013, Atkinson and Cathy Turner—one of Island Art Gallery’s longtime artists—began discussions with Nelson on creating a business plan to ensure a future for the gallery, given the quickly changing art world. They decided it needed to be an artist-owned gallery and cooperative blend, and they set out to find five more “owner-artists” to join them. Once they assembled a team, they bought out the original Island Art Gallery and created Island Art Gallery, LLC. Participating artists rent a wall with no obligation to work the gallery, and this has allowed them to bring in artists from a broader reach in both South and North Carolina.

“I earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Queens University in Charlotte—with an extracurricular emphasis in art classes—so it seemed the perfect role for me to be involved in the management of a gallery at this point in my life,” says Atkinson. “We are so proud of our current team of 25 artists, many of whom have been with us since we started this venture. All of them are truly working artists, and creating art is very much a lifestyle for them. We are absolutely dependent on every one of them and constantly amazed at the steady stream of exceptional paintings they bring into the gallery.”

Notable local watercolor and acrylic artists include Maura Kenny, Nancy Van Buren, Paula Robertson, Gail Joley, Tina Proctor, Catherine Vaccarino, Donna Littleton, Barnie Slice and North Carolina artist Zan Thompson. In addition, Cindy Silvers, Jim Nelson and Stephanie Hamlet are all mixed-media artists who collectively incorporate water media, collage, wax, scratchboard and inks into their distinctive works.

Oil painters make up many of the gallery’s artists, and their styles vary widely. Known for their bold use of color, brushwork and palette knife skills are Jane Woodward, Lucia Jones, Ellen Williams, John Witzel of Witzel Art and North Carolina artists Sharon Lampke and Carol Carstarphen. Celebrated primarily for their representational and impressionistic marsh and ocean scenes and local birds are Keith Wilkie, Cathy Turner, Janelle Feeney, Barbara Keller, Cynthia Shuler and Kelly Atkinson.

Furniture maker Pete Rock specializes in exquisite inlaid tables of all sizes, many of which incorporate sweetgrass basket tops made by Charleston basket makers. To learn more about each artist, you can visit Island Art’s website.

“We also have several artists who do commissions to meet the needs of those who have a specific request,” says Atkinson. “Island Art Gallery has become a great source for interior decorators as we have such a large selection of artwork housed under one roof for their clients to see.”

Island Art Gallery features two shows per year—an Annual Spring Show and an Annual Miniature Masterpiece Show held every December—this year’s opening was December 3. Both shows are open to in-house and outside artists. Once the pandemic dwindles, the gallery looks forward to resuming ongoing classes and workshops held in its back studio.

Seven years into this venture, the managing-partner artists have never assigned themselves formal titles as they work collectively to oversee gallery operations. The current team—Atkinson, Turner, Slice, Silvers, Feeney, Woodward, Nelson and Williams—keep a handwritten journal of the day’s activities and sales while each minding the gallery a day or two a week.

“Each of us has settled into tasks that our life’s work has prepared us for, keeping the gallery running like a ship’s engine,” says Atkinson. “I always say it takes a village—and in this case, it certainly does. Since our venture began, no one has ever missed a journal entry—a testament to the bond we have created doing what we love.”

Jeanne de Lathouder currently resides in Birmingham, AL, where she works as a freelance writer for books and publications across the country. Contact her at

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