Victoria Platt Ellis is a prolific artist and so much more. A veteran advocate for all things culture, she’s been a pioneering presence in Charleston art circles, bringing innovative ideas to the local art scene while managing her own gallery in Summerville. For two decades, she held a volunteer post coordinating Piccolo Spoleto, the companion event to Spoleto USA—a celebration of the arts that each year attracts talent from around the world to the South Carolina Lowcountry.
“This program is long-running thanks to the dedication and hard work of the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Charleston,” says Ellis, who will be an exhibitor in the 2022 Piccolo Spoleto Festival, running from May 27 to June 12.
Ellis’ paintings capture the beauty of the surrounding Southern landscape, with a particular slant toward the world of nature. She credits growing up amid the abundant harvest of her father’s vegetable garden for influencing her love of plants, although she admits favoring flowers over tomatoes.
“My first memory of being a painter is getting into trouble with my mother, whose favorite choice of punishment was to require a child to sit on the back steps and watch her siblings playing,” Ellis recalls. “It was torture. But I would just grab a stick and draw imaginary things in the dirt.”
Ellis says she was singled out to participate in a highly competitive art class in high school, but she took a hiatus from painting that lasted until after she married. “I had BFFs that I hung out with,” she quips. “We were having too much fun to consider our futures.”
Feeling the urge to contribute to the family coffers, Ellis picked up the brush again in her 20s and recalls the moment that changed the course of her career. “I was invited to participate in Kiawah Island’s Thursday night Summerfest program,” she says. “It was one of the most rewarding events of my art career. I met so many great people who gave my art a home. The program lasted 16 years!”
Watercolor is Ellis’ medium of choice, believing it’s the most challenging. She paints with a light hand, capturing images of the Lowcountry brushed in delicate washes of color.
“Watercolor paintings were all the rage!” says Ellis, retracing early days spent working with fellow creatives. “As memory serves, Lowcountry Artists, Ltd., was established downtown in 1998. The concept was quite unique at the time. The artists owned and operated the gallery, which worked so well for me that my artist friends and I established three co-op galleries in the Tri-County area. I cannot say how many times I painted another version of Rainbow Row or the magnificent homes along the Battery—all in watercolor.”
Ellis’ participation continued, helping to expand the region’s art community. “Gallery 12 showcased established artists and had a gallery manager—quite different from an artist-operated gallery,” she notes. “Art Central is the brainchild of Susan C. Campbell, who organized the art interest in Summerville. She said to me, ‘If you are interested in promoting the arts in Summerville, your investment is $500.’ I, along with 12 other progressive ladies, did just that, and Art Central was born. I am no longer a member and although they have moved from their original location, they still have wind beneath their wings.”
Today, Ellis showcases her artwork through her studio and on her website, where visitors can also find her personal musings on life in general and the South in particular. There, she hosts a journal, channeling her thoughts through a collection of 12 watercolors that represent each month’s unique bloom as it flowers in her garden.
An excerpt from her first post of 2020 reads: In January, camellias are widely used for decorating, as most other flowers wait until the danger of frost has passed before poking out their little heads! Camellias’ stems are short, so these beautiful flowers are usually “floated” in Grandma’s elegant china platter and used as a centerpiece at the Southern dinner table.
In addition to watercolors and words, Ellis enjoys expressing herself through collage. Her Nautical Chart series captures the spirit of land and sea with actual nautical charts she has collected over the years, which are layered with oil and acrylic painted images to produce works that are ethereal and evocative.
For Victoria Platt Ellis, the Lowcountry keeps on giving. And so, too, does she.
Wendy Swat Snyder is a Charleston-based freelance writer (sweetgrassandgrits.com).