When attending our 50th reunion and the awards ceremony last April, my classmates and I had a Eureka! moment when hearing the criteria for the Excellence in the Arts award.   One of our own is a talented artist and community volunteer, recognized not only by her peers but by a United States President and natives in Zimbabwe.

 Nancy Ricker Rhett is an accomplished painter, generous with time and talent.  Members of the class of 1960 enthusiastically nominate our friend for this prestigious award.  Our only regret is that we did not keep the many originals she would sketch and give us when we were in school together!

This success story began at Ashley Hall.  Nancy is grateful to teacher and artist E. deMay Smith for identifying and encouraging her talent. From the flyleaf of her book, “The school and my teacher…allowed me the freedom to paint whatever and however I wished.  They even looked aside when I played hooky from sports.  Bless them.”

A prolific artist, accomplished (and witty) writer, and successful business owner (no easy feat in the art world), Nancy brings her open heart, quick smile, and generous personality to life.  She fulfills the criteria for the award and embodies the qualities of an Ashley Hall woman.  She is grateful for and appreciative of her talent.  “To me, painting is a vocation and a vacation at the same time.  I can’t wait to retire so that I can paint all the time.”

View her work.  Talk with her peers.  Visit her in person.  Select Nancy Ricker Rhett to receive this award.  We will return to celebrate with her and with Ashley Hall.

We asked Nancy for details to fill out the nomination.  The intention was to compose the entry from her “facts”.   Instead, we present the free-thinking, enthusiastic, genuine woman in her own words and style.  Enjoy! 

Marsha Solomon Londe                      Jane Brooks Ball                      Mimi Bailes Reese     
Mandy Welch Geils                             Michele DeHart Greene         Paula Bogel Lantz
Margaret P Anderson                        
Pam Elliot Reinhart                 Sister Dotterer Rutledge Angie Whaley LeClercq                        Garden Haigh Frampton         Gaye Glover Casadi   
Dottie Pratt-Thomas Leonard             Kathleen Stevenson Turner     Reecie Smith Wilkes
Beth Wilson Lowery                            Penny Hillyar Law                   Barbara Zemp Cantey
Margaret Street Wilson                      Margaret Miller Terrell        
Julie Burns Rieger
Alys Anne Williams Wiedeke              Alicia Hayne Mikell                 Patti Fishburne Workman
Pinky Rockhill                                      Courtney McDowell                Kitty Griffith
Jane Longmire Cuffe

Describe your art: [Nancy Rhett] Realism, straightforward, no nonsense, warts and all - just like me.  My love is watercolor, which I've been doing since I was about four years old at my Grandmother's knee.  Occasionally I will branch out to oil, acrylic, or pastels, but I always return to watercolors.

How many books and on what topics [Nancy Rhett] I’ve illustrated or done cover art (or contributed to) about twenty books, and wrote and illustrated a coffee table book, Beaufort and the Lowcountry, a history/guide/pictorial.  All my work seems related to the Lowcountry (Mrs. Achurch - "Write what you know most about, etc.", substitute "paint"...).  I've painted the cover for our local phone book for sixteen years, and twice we've placed in international competitions for independent phone book publishing. 

 How long in business [Nancy Rhett] Bill and I have had a gallery for thirty years (Jan.15!) on Bay Street in Beaufort.  We have had second galleries over the years in Charleston (The Omni), Fripp Island, and a funky, fun one in Frogmore.   For one reason or another (logistics, mainly), it seems that having one is easier, especially as we get older.  I've been selling my artwork since 1957 - pencil portraits of my classmates at AH!  Then I put Charlie (first husband) through Duke Law School with the sales of my paintings.  I've had a working/selling studio gallery since 1964.  (The one, in 1963, was a piece of plywood over a playpen.)

 Ours has been listed as the "Best Art Gallery in Beaufort" for twelve years running - big fish, little mud puddle syndrome.

 Bill's and my real joy is that our son, William III, has become the fifth generation artist in the family (the fifth on my side, the fourth on Bill's) and is taking over the Gallery.  Lovely!

 Other activities relating to the arts [Nancy Rhett] Often, I do illustrations for brochures, charities, and the like.  We donate a lot of art work to charity. 

Other activities relating to the community [Nancy Rhett] I do a lot of illustrations for the Marine Corps, for their posters and such.  This is something I enjoy, as it makes me feel particularly patriotic - Rosie the Riveter?   

 I've had dozens of one-man shows in galleries over the years, mostly the East Coast, and all the way up to Michigan!  ("If you'd leave off the sea oats, it'll look just like Lake Michigan", the gallery owner said...).

I received awards and accolades and such, but I'm not very competitive.  I'd rather just paint what I like and do some commissions.  (Just finished one of the Hawaiian coast and one of a yacht in Alaska - never having been to either!)  Actually, I'm uncomfortable in public, except on my home turf. 

 I've had a few feathers in my cap, but my real plume is when one of my paintings was given to President Reagan, and he asked to meet me.  Then, Mrs. Reagan liked it as well, so they paid the gift tax and hung it in their ranch house.  (A customer once asked me if I knew who'd seen it there.  "No", said I.  He responded with "Gorbachov, Maggie Thatcher, Trudeau..." and on down the list!  After Reagan's death, it was placed in the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, listed as The Gift from South Carolina.  My plume. 

Actually, my paintings are all around the world, not in museums and such (one castle, that I know of!), but in everyday homes.  I developed a thriving little side business of personalizing baby names and birthdates in a painting. These are truly all over.  One client receives them in England via diplomatic pouch!  It's like a virus - it spreads!

 One very interesting experience I had was on safari in Zimbabwe.  I communicated with some of the natives with pencil drawings, so our trackers and bearers knew what I did.  They seemed to like it.  When I returned two years later, I brought along my watercolors.  When they returned from a trek and saw a completed painting of the scene, they drew back and viewed me in a very different way - almost as if I were practicing magic!  They were most deferent from then on, a real change in our relationship.  I was right up there with the witch doctor! 

 Being an artist for a lifetime has been an adventure.  I've met some of the most wonderful and interesting people and been to some amazing places.  Almost every painting has some sort of story behind it.  It's been a lovely ride.


Art form:                                primarily watercolors; also oil, acrylic, and pastels
Books and topics:                  illustrated or cover art for @ 20; wrote and illustrated 
                                                     Beaufort and the Lowcountry, a history/guide/pictorial
Years in business:                   Gallery for 30 years; “selling” since 1957
Community Activities:          Art for charities through donated pieces and made-to-order                   
                                                     illustrations; donating time and talent to Marine  Corp, 
                                                     community phone book
Recognition:                           Numerous one-woman shows; selected to create painting for                           
                                                     President Reagan followed by personal meeting; piece hangs in
                                                     Reagan library; appreciated from castles (one) to Zimbabwe
Accomplishments:                 Accomplished, nationally recognized artist, successful      
                                         businesswoman, family-focused, gifting to community/charity

Article from Beaufort paper follows:

Monday, February 7, 2011
Rhett Gallery: Five generations of masterpieces and counting

Five talented generations and counting


Rhett Gallery on Bay Street in Beaufort

For five generations, the Rhett family of Beaufort has produced and compiled some of the finest examples of art – not only in the Lowcountry, but also in the world. Whether or not another generation will follow is up to the youngest member, 26-year-old William III, who has no protégé at the time.

Now three decades into operating a successful gallery, it’s incredible that nary a one of them has ever studied art or taken lessons, according to Nancy Ricker Rhett – considered the heart and soul of the business.

“I guess we are just lucky,” said Nancy, who happens to have a watercolor painting on permanent display in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. “We are all self-taught.”

Located at 901 Bay Street in downtown Beaufort, Rhett Gallery Inc. celebrated its 30th anniversary on January 15, 2011. And while it’s best known for its Lowcountry prints and paintings, the gallery also has earned a measure of respect for its antique maps, First Edition Audubons (1840s), John Gould’s hummingbirds, McKenney & Hall Indians, Civil War art/artifacts, antique nautical charts, natural history prints, and botanicals.

Most recently, Rhett began offering fine giclee reproductions, which makes it possible to print artwork at almost any size to fit the client’s needs.


Shrimp Trawler, one of Nancy Ricker Rhett's most popular works of art.

During lulls in the foot traffic entering the business, the shop more than makes up for it with its superior shadowbox custom framing – having developed an equally impressive reputation in this department as evidenced by requests from around the world. In fact, some of Rhett’s most loyal customers are in Virginia and England.

The Rhett family also has another streak in the works. For the 16th year in a row, Communications Publication Company of Beaufort has featured artwork from Rhett Gallery on the cover of its annual Lowcountry phone directory (Beaufort, Jasper and Hampton counties).

When asked if there is ever an off-season for a gallery, the only apparent factor is the economy. Nancy basically described two distinct seasons for Rhett Gallery: “Winter customers with no children and no budget,” and “Summer customers with children and a budget.”

And then you have rare and unique visitors, such as Barbara Streisand, who stopped by when the movie “Prince of Tides” was being filmed in the area.

Rhett Gallery was conceived in 1981 out of exhaustion and caution. Nancy had grown tired of lugging everything up and down the East Coast for exhibits, and her husband, Bill, became uneasy about traveling to a New York City gallery twice a year with his very fragile woodcarvings. They also didn’t like the frequent interruptions at their home studios in order to entertain clients. Thus, a small shop in town seemed like the logical solution.

At that point in time, the Rhett’s personal collection of antique maps and natural history prints were “bulging,” so they put a few up for sale. The business began to grow, prompting them to buy and restore the two-story building at 901 Bay Street, which dates back to 1884.


William Rhett III is now contributing regularly to his family's diverse range of artistic expressions.

With the additional space, Bill and Nancy began incorporating some artwork created by Bill’s grandfather, James Moore Rhett (1893-1941), who grew up in Beaufort and painted all his life. Likewise, Nancy, a fourth-generation artist from her father’s side, added fine art to the collection from her family. William III then joined the venture in 2002, making it five generations of artwork under one roof.

While Bill is best known for his wood sculptures of wildfowl, he also dabbles in oil paintings. Nancy is primarily a watercolor painter and book illustrator/author, but occasionally ventures into other media. William III, who didn’t start painting until he was 18, enjoys portraying realistic landscapes and creek scenes in both watercolors and oils, along with an occasional graphite drawing. He’s also multi-talented with a passion for the guitar, on which he performs classical and rock-n-roll music.

With that in mind, don’t be surprised if someday Rhett Gallery offers “music to paint by” CDs alongside its prestigious art collection.