The Gallery at Freshfields
265 Gardeners Circle, Johns Island

The Wells Gallery at The Sanctuary
1 Sanctuary Beach Dr., Kiawah Island

Not so long ago, the portion of semi-wild barrier island landscape at the entrance to Kiawah and Seabrook Islands was green and unspoiled. Now the ironically titled Freshfields Village has paved over that parcel of land with parking lots and faux ’40s-era retail stores and a fancy new Piggly Wiggly.

One of the few rays of light on this built-up horizon is provided by Rob Hicklin, who established the Charleston Renaissance Gallery downtown more than 30 years ago, focusing on 19th- and early 20th-century artists.

“Rob wanted a space to show work by living artists,” says Kate Lindsay, director of Hicklin’s new Gallery at Freshfields Village. “It took over a year of planning to put together our paintings, 3-D pieces, and photographs.”

Until Freshfields Village is completed, visitors may have difficulty finding the contemporary gallery, which opened a couple of months ago. It’s tucked away beside Indigo Books at 265 Gardeners Circle (not #130, the mailing address on the brochure) but its treasures make the hunt worthwhile. With the slogan “Fine Art of the American South,” its artists include Terry DeLapp, Dan Ostermiller, William Dunlapp, and basket maker Carole Hetzel. Dunlapp’s “Late Night, Heavy Water” is a golden-hour delight, and the space is graced with sculptures from Ostermiller, such as a coy elephant labeled “Stage Fright.” Its pose was inspired by the nervous posture of the sculptor’s daughter, on stage in fifth grade.

“We’re hoping to have outdoor sculptures throughout the village,” says Lindsay. Some of them were in place for an inaugural Jazz Art Walk on October 7, which had Carolina Clay Gallery chipping in and Ann Caldwell performing on the village green. As we approach November, business should pick up for the gallery, as more stores open and locals become increasingly aware of the facilities. “It’s been busy, though,” the director hastens to add, “with residents interested in contemporary art, and those who want to support local artists.”

Not all the artists are local. California resident DeLapp’s “Fort Sumter” (acrylic on canvas) features the simple but recognizable landmark, capturing the heat of a Charleston summer with subtle tones. “When he visited the city, he found the light and water so compelling,” Lindsay says. “That’s what our artists share, wherever they’re from — the things they find compelling here.”

Freshfields offers Rob Hicklin a bold chance to experiment in a place that seems lighter and roomier than the Renaissance Gallery downtown. In a back room there’s a plasma screen where viewers can search the galleries’ complete catalog; like the Dunlapp work, the screen has been popular with visitors, and whatever’s successful will be repeated downtown. The cool space shows off the majority of the artworks to their best advantage; Philip Moulthrop’s wood work and Linda Fantuzzo’s panels are the least impressive, but they’re in such good company that a little rearrangement would easily put them in a better light.

Hume Killian also feels a little hemmed in downtown, so last spring he jumped at the chance to try a gallery in the Sanctuary Hotel on Kiawah. The place isn’t as elitist as some island residents might like to suggest — the hotel welcomes visitors, diners, and shoppers. But don’t expect any hunchbacked bell ringers at this Sanctuary. It’s a large-scale hotel with an exterior resembling a high school and interior murals that are obscured by staircases and doorways. That’s a shame, because Karen Larson Turner’s 28-x-22-foot vistas give the walls a great sense of scope and beauty.

As artists continue to seek new spaces to display their work, it’s becoming increasingly common for hotels to incorporate art into their décor; the Renaissance Arts Hotel in New Orleans is (or at least was) one of the most prominent, with a Gallery Project on its first floor. To give the Kiawah hotel its due, its murals and other original art pieces succeed in making the place look and feel unique.

The Wells Gallery at The Sanctuary is in a shopping arcade, next to a clothes store. It’s the result of a four-year relationship with the hotel’s designers, after Killian approached them with suggestions for original paintings and sculptures. Killian already has his hands full with The Wells and Smith Killian galleries downtown, and he admits that he’s spreading himself thin with his latest venture. “But the traffic we get here’s so much more regular than downtown,” he says. “A lot more of our customers are collectors who will make impulse buys, although some people are still scared of art.”

Maybe it’s the brash colors of Betty Anglin Smith’s work that scares them. Her multi-layered marshscapes are easier on the eye from a distance, and that’s not always possible in this space. Among a range of landscape paintings from local artists, Smith’s scorching work can’t fail to stand out. Wladimir de Terlikowski is the gallery’s only deceased artist; his 1929 “Sacre Coeur,” complete with white background, is also prominent in the crowd of Charleston buildings represented here.

Just as Freshfields has its plasma screen, Killian shows buyers his catalog on a computer monitor.

“I enjoy the fluidity of things coming here and going downtown,” says the owner. But it seems unlikely that some pieces, such as Smith’s “The Sanctuary” or Kim English’s tranquil figurative work, will pop up in the original Wells anytime soon, so the new gallery’s a must-see for any discerning island hopper. Go see the picturesque landscape paintings on display there — at the current rate of construction in the area, they’ll soon become the only record of some of its most beautiful natural environments.