- Sunlight brightens the City Gallery at Waterfront Park.
Charleston’s charms earn accolades. Not only has it been dubbed “the most mannerly” city by etiquette expert Marjabelle Young Stewart, but AmericanStyle readers ranked this South Carolina destination fourth last year among America’s top art cities with populations of less than 100,000.
This city has supported the arts for centuries, but a decision three decades ago gave it a huge boost: composer Gian Carlo Menotti and others involved in the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, chose Charleston as the site of an American version. For 17 days every May and June, Spoleto Festival USA shows the work of internationally recognized visual and performing artists in theaters, historic churches and other venues throughout the city.
In 1979, the city created Piccolo Spoleto as a regionally focused counterpart, giving local and Southeastern artists a great opportunity to reach a larger audience. With free admission to half its shows, and events that welcome children, the festival has broad appeal.
Artists have flocked to Charleston, filling the downtown area with a wide variety of art year-round. You can view it on foot, but don’t expect to see everything in one day. We suggest two loops for pedestrians: the Historic District one day, and the King Street area the next.
You can start at the Historic District’s Gibbes Museum of Art (135 Meeting St., 843-722-2706). The Beaux Arts structure houses fine art, most of it connected to the Charleston region.
Ella Walton Richardson Fine Art Gallery (91 Broad St., 843- 722-3660) has three levels displaying acclaimed contemporary artists including plein-air talent Karen Hewitt Hagan, painter Lindsay Goodwin and sculptor Marianne Houtkamp.
Nearby, three galleries honor fine three-dimensional art. In a former bank dating to 1891, Mary Martin Gallery (39 Broad St., 843- 723-0303) showcases Ron Artman’s Asian-inf luenced ceremonial vessels and Nancy Langston’s cast-glass sculpture. Treasures inhabit the open vault. Edward Dare Gallery (31 Broad St., 843-853-5002) features Charlie Black’s turned-wood bowls and Lin Barnhardt’s acrylic-and-earthenware architectural sculpture. Grand, light-filled Martin Gallery (18 Broad St., 843-723-7378) has an impressive collection of large-scale sculpture, Scott Amrhein’s kilnworked glass bowls, and Robert Carlson’s pit-fired ceramic vessels. Equally inspiring artists round out all three galleries.
Eva Carter Gallery (132 East Bay St., 843-722-0506) calls itself Charleston’s only exclusively abstract gallery. Invitational shows complement large, evocative canvases by Carter and the late master William Halsey. City Gallery at Waterfront Park (34 Prioleau St., 843-958- 6484) opened in 2003. This city-run gallery spotlights new, innovative works in an airy, glass-fronted setting.
Fraser Fox Fine Art (12 Queen St., 843-723-0073) is known for West Fraser’s Lowcountry landscapes, Kent Ullberg’s engaging wildlife sculpture, and goldsmith Sarah Amos’ exquisite jewelry made from ancient coins and semi-precious stones. Smith Killian Fine Art (9 Queen St., 843-853-0708) is a showcase for painter Betty Anglin Smith and her triplets (photographer Tripp Smith and painters Shannon Smith and Jennifer Smith Rogers). Playfully vibrant bronze sculptures by Darrell Davis reveal a talented wit.
Around the corner, Nina Liu and Friends (24 State St., 843-722-2724) presents three floors of “artists who really have something to say in a very personal way.” Priscilla Hollingsworth’s colorful ceramics and Mana Hewitt’s sculptural shrines are among the thoughtfully chosen. Wells Gallery (17 State St., 843- 853-3233) features fine painters and David Goldhagen’s brilliantly f luid blown glass.
A stroll up cobblestone Chalmers Street is Charleston’s other City Gallery (133 Church St., 843-958-6459), in the historic Dock Street Theatre. It specializes in experimental work by emerging visual artists. Past St. Philip’s Episcopal Church is One of a Kind Gallery (164 Church St., 843-534-1774), where 6-foot oxidized- copper frogs guard the entry to whimsical blown-glass jellyfish, stained-glass kaleidoscopes and artfully functional pottery. End this loop at Meeting Street, where talented artisans, including some weaving the region’s sweetgrass baskets, grace the open-air Market Hall.
A second downtown loop, focusing on King Street and its cross streets, offers a good overview of South Carolina artisans. You can begin at the city’s oldest fine craft cooperative, the Charleston Crafts Gallery (87 Hasell St., 843-723- 2938), which features works by 25 to 30 artisans. During Piccolo Spoleto it hosts crafts events at Wragg Square.
Cone 10 (285 Meeting St., 843- 853-3345) is the working studio of 20 ceramists. Its rich diversity of styles is the intimate gallery’s strength. Raymond Clark gallery (307 King St., 843-723-7555) specializes in functional American-made craft, including Michael Bruner’s sculptural glass goblets and Larry Watson’s earthy, spiral-handled teapots.
On Saturdays between April and December, you could spend hours at the Farmers Market in Marion Square (King and Calhoun streets, 843-724-7309), where juried artisans rub elbows with local farmers. Also nearby, at the College of Charleston’s Simons Center for the Arts, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art (54 St. Philip St., 843-953-5680) hosts several fine international exhibitions a year, plus the “Young Contemporaries” show, which debuts works by select students.
You can end your tour by following St. Philip Street to Elizabeth Carlton’s radiant ceramics studio (85 Wentworth St., 843-853-2421), which is sure to make you smile—if you aren’t already.