In the open, wood-floored, white-walled Miller Gallery, decorated sparsely with mid-century modern furniture and fresh flowers, everything has its place. There's "Tank Girl," an imposing seven-foot by six-foot oil on canvas portrait by Jo Hay, a British American painter who, in her series "Benders," depicts individuals identifying as gender fluid. There is a wall devoted to art of a different kind — textiles by Suite 33 and jewelry by Naked Eyes, both locally based companies. There's an abstract aerial painting of the 'burbs, flecked with gold leaf. The 10 degree coffee table in the sitting area and the end tables sprinkled throughout the gallery are all hand-crafted by Hampton Park resident and woodworker Spencer Hamilton. For gallery owner and art connoisseur Sarah Miller — who was interior design company Mitchell Hill's art director for five years before starting a consulting company last fall — "This is a dream come true. I wanted a place to call my own, to be surrounded by art. I belive art has an impact on people."
Miller loves art, yes, but with a BA in Arts Management from College of Charleston, she also knows art. This past winter, struggling with exactly how she wanted to continue her artistic career, Miller says she "woke up at 3 a.m. in a panic." Instead of diving into a bottle of wine or a pint of ice cream, Miller drafted a business plan. Inspired by contemporary art gallerists like Anne Siegfried and Robert and Megan Lange, Miller knew she wanted to create a welcoming environment for contemporary pieces and contemporary art lovers.
Finding artists through Instagram and connections she's made over the years, and then having a few serendipitously land in her lap, Miller's culled 11 artists and artisans, both local and international, to represent.
For Miller's inaugural exhibit Wide Open, she says the idea was to highlight artists who are "all across the board." "I want people to come in and experience artwork that was created by people with all different points of view, with different back stories. I want everyone to always feel welcome here, we're wide open to all," says Miller. It may sound like a bit of rose-colored glasses idealism, but Miller is genuine, and her artists are too.
Ten years ago Kate Hooray Osmond was a photographer for Garmin (the GPS company), going up in helicopters to capture aerial images. Today, Charleston-based Osmond is a grad student at the Maryland Institute College of Art and sources these aerial photos as a foundation for abstract oil and gold leaf paintings. "I pick industrial areas a lot, any place where there's a lot of human activity," says Osmond. "Places that aren't considered naturally beautiful like subdivisions, bridges, overpasses. Each year I take one or two helicopter trips around a city. I've done the Great Lakes, Texas, almost the entire Mississippi River." Osmond recently flew around Charleston, and will be creating works based on this trip for a solo show in October.
Another Charleston-based artist, Charlotte Filbert, is also starting to work on pieces dedicated to the Lowcountry. A newly minted transplant (she's lived all over, most recently New York City) Filbert is getting adjusted to the city, but says of all the places she's lived, she really fell in love with Charleston. Her pieces currently displayed in the Miller gallery are from a series she created in the Hamptons called "Stand Up" — "stand up for what you believe in," says Filbert. "I usually paint for places where I live, so I'm working on a new show for Charleston. I try to make the art relevant and meaningful, but also beautiful."
One piece from the "Stand Up" series, "Peaceful Protestors," has already sold, and the gallery's been open for less than a month. "Sarah has such an incredible eye, and has taken a leap of faith with contemporary edgy art. I'm grateful to be a part of it," says Filbert.
Filbert's husband Benjamin Rollins Caldwell, a self taught designer and furniture builder, also has work displayed in the gallery — sandblasted test tubes filled with paint hung on a stainless steel background.
"When I first started pursuing artists, I told them the gallery will be a little different from anything else in Charleston," says Miller. "Everything has good energy, it's fun." And while Miller as an individual is a genial force to be reckoned with in Charleston's burgeoning contemporary art scene, the gallery is a group effort. "My roommate's graduation dress from seven years ago was made by the woman who now owns Suite 33. My neighbor [Hamilton} makes all of the woodwork. My good friends Emily and Alex own Naked Eyes," says Miller. "I always want everyone to show their stuff, when they're really good at what they do. And now I can do just that."