provided to The Santiva Chronicle
It did not take long following the washout Ian unleashed at the new Rachel Pierce Art Gallery at 1500 Periwinkle Way on Sanibel Island before the eponymous artist’s island-bright, cheering sign was back up and the artist-businesswoman had reinvented her brand of industry. Pierce has managed to keep her business alive in her gallery parking lot, inviting island businesses and non-profits to her marketplace, but on Oct. 20, she officially reopened her remastered gallery building with a SanCap Chamber ribbon-cutting.
“Rachel has been such a force in this community since she first opened her gallery in January 2022,” said John Lai, chamber president and CEO. “It was heartbreaking that her gallery was destroyed so soon after she had restored and redesigned the building’s interior. But the positive spirit reflected in her island-themed, interpretive art prevailed and triumphed. She never left the scene, but we welcome her back to where she started her career as a gallery artist.”
Pierce became involved in the islands as a TV news anchor for NBC2, participating in fundraisers and, as she pivoted her career to full-time art, artist-in-residence for J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Her immediate affinity for the island community helped her decide to open her first gallery on Sanibel – a dream fulfilled for her, her husband, and four children.
So, when Ian threatened to crush that dream, the Pierces stood their ground.
“It was never a question for us. We knew we would rebuild, even if we had to do the work ourselves, which we sure did a ton of work ourselves,” said Pierce. “I went from painting canvases to painting walls. A lot of own blood, sweat, and tears went into the rebuild, but worth it! This island is worth it.”
The idea of opening a community marketplace outside the gallery evolved from selling her own paintings, jewelry, and hand-painted clothing from the gallery’s front porch. She went to work replacing the art lost to the storm – fortunately she had digital copies – to sell. When she mentioned the idea to other businesses unable to open at first, she immediately heard eight yeses.
The city got behind the idea, and non-profits joined in after she debuted the market on Jan. 2, the day the bridge opened to general traffic. At the height of its reign through Sep. 18, the market included 17 businesses and nonprofits.
In the meantime, Pierce put her indefatigable energy to work helping charities like SCCF, the Sanibel School, “Ding” Darling, and the Kiwanis with her art. For the SanCap Chamber, she designed a special jersey for the Mighty Mussels baseball team to wear on Islands Night in May. The chamber later auctioned them off for charity.
“I just feel like the chamber is always working for us, trying to do what they can,” said Rachel. “The chamber heard our concerns, our joys, and everything in between. I’m so thankful for the luncheons to learn about what’s going on, to connect with other business folks, and just the sense of normalcy. The chamber plays a vital role in our community and was forced to shift its focus and operations like the rest of us. I’m proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish.”