Sullivan’s Island is temperate and brightly lit, a picturesque area as welcoming as it is inviting. Even in February, when Charleston is battling unusually low temperatures, it feels warm outside. But it’s much warmer— physically and visually—inside Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivan’s Island.
“It’s breathtaking here in Charleston,” says Julie Sweat, owner of the Sandpiper Gallery as well as the Edward Dare Gallery in Charleston. “No matter where you go, you see something beautiful. And that’s reflected in the art we show.”
Indeed, Sandpiper Gallery suits the island well. Sweat remarks that the gallery’s ambience—bright, casual and comforting—really draws people in. “It’s what we strive for,” she says.
Sweat has owned and directed Sandpiper Gallery on Sullivan’s Island for 14 years and the Edward Dare Gallery for nine. Although both galleries carry similar art and share artists, they have distinct personalities. Where Edward Dare carries an air of tradition and history that mirrors downtown Charleston, Sandpiper Gallery pops with color and delight. It is, by every definition, an island gallery. Moving it anywhere else would do its unique, lighthearted ambience a disservice.
Color and variety are Sandpiper’s biggest draws. The walls are lined with quality art that covers a spectrum of styles and subjects. Sandpiper is as eclectic as the seashells on a beach, exhibiting coastal landscapes, figurative paintings, a wide array of wildlife pieces and still lifes. The gallery also has a vast collection of pottery, jewelry, photography, sculpture, wood, glass and other fine American crafts.
“If we had to pick one style we’d be in trouble, because we have very eclectic taste,” Sweat says. “And I think we’re known for that. If you’re looking for a high-end painting from nationally renowned artists, we have that. But we also have fine pieces under $100. We try to find beautiful, unique things that you can’t find in just any store or gallery in America.” The gallery’s roster includes artists from South Carolina as well as from other regions of the United States and Canada. Take Leslie Pratt-Thomas, originally from Canada, and Susan Hecht, who grew up in Charleston. These artists focus on similar subjects yet approach them in different ways. “Leslie is attuned to the seasonal changes of the Lowcountry,” Sweat says. “She has a great eye for composition and can find a beautiful scene and make it extraordinary. Susan’s personality comes out in broad, expressive, colorful brushstrokes. Her palette is cheerful and happy.”
Ralph Grady James, an artist with a national reputation, is known for his coastal scenes (you can almost feel the salt spray blowing off his oceanscapes) as well as his paintings of birds. Canadian artist Sara Jane Doberstein also loves the coast. Her vibrant paintings capture the details of old or aging objects, such as the chipped paint on an old dock or worn down seashells. Douglas Grier, one of the galleries’ most highly collected artists, has spent a lifetime immortalizing pieces of our Southern landscape that are slowly disappearing. Each blade of grass and every ray of sunlight skipping across the water come to life in his unforgettable work.
At Sandpiper, you’ll find exquisite jewelry in a variety of media—copper, sterling, crystal, glass, carved stone and gemstone. Pottery includes sculptural works by Mount Pleasant raku artist Tim Tyler, fine dinnerware by Kathy Bolton and functional, earthy pieces by Jim Jones.
“We’ve ended up with a group of extremely talented, but very humble, artists,” Sweat says. “They are a joy to work with, and when the clients get to meet the artists, they come to love the art even more.”
Once inside these galleries, surrounded by art inspired by the beauty of the Lowcountry, it gets harder and harder to leave. Thankfully, you can take a piece of art from Sandpiper or Edward Dare home with you and bring back memories of Charleston anytime you choose.
Scott Elingburg is a freelance writer who lives in Charleston.